House Democrats, White House Race to Reach Agreement on Coronavirus Relief Package

March 12, 2020 Updated: March 12, 2020

House Democrats and the White House on March 11 raced to strike a deal on emergency legislation in response to the coronavirus outbreak, with the hope of securing a signature from President Donald Trump by the end of the week.

As of Wednesday evening, the relief proposal unveiled by House Democrats included emergency provisions such as expanded unemployment insurance and paid sick leave, among other measures which were earlier prioritized by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The proposals—which lawmakers hope will pass on the floor Thursday—were announced at a press conference on Wednesday as the Trump administration and House Democrats worked toward what an economic stimulus package to help Americans should look like.

Pelosi said after a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats she hoped legislation to help Americans navigate through the coronavirus crisis would win the backing of the Trump administration. On Wednesday evening, she spoke with Vice President Mike Pence and Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The legislation would include expanding unemployment benefits for those who have lost work because of the impact of the fast-spreading virus. It would also call for workers who are infected, quarantined, or taking care of children or a loved one who is sick, to be granted up to three months of paid leave, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“This vote tomorrow is going to be an act of confidence that … we’re acting on a national health emergency,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said, according to Reuters.

Nancy Pelosi Holds Press Conference Unveiling House Democrats' New Infrastructure Framework
(R to L) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) hold a news conference unveiling House Democrats’ new infrastructure framework at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 29, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Neal said that on Tuesday he spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and “he surely seemed supportive of the positions I had taken.”

The Senate Democrats COVID-19 Economic and Community Services Proposal also includes, among other measures, loan payment relief for up to six months on federally insured mortgages and student loans, emergency mortgage and rental assistance, federal funding for local communities, grants for small businesses, and additional funding for food banks, schools, and nonprofits.

“There are a lot of proposals in the Speaker’s package that deal with critical issues we agree are important, but we have not finished reviewing the details of her ideas,” a White House official told the WSJ.

Democrats have refused to back Trump’s call for at least temporarily suspending the payroll tax as a way of helping families get through the coronavirus crisis. They have argued that the proposal is too broad and would not be the most effective way of helping Americans.

Trump has also proposed providing loan guarantees to the cruise ship, hotel, and airline industries affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are not looking for bailouts,” Mnuchin said, according to The New York Times. “Loan guarantees are a very effective way of making sure the government gets paid back without putting the government at risk.”

Cases of the coronavirus have exceeded 1,000 in the United States across almost three-quarters of U.S. states and the death toll increased to 36 as of late Wednesday. Congress last week passed an $8.3 billion bill which would provide funding toward developing a vaccine for the virus and preventing its spread across the country.

Reuters contributed to this report.