Democrats set 48-hour deadline for US stimulus talks

Nancy Pelosi said a stimulus package must be agreed in the next 48 hours if it is to pass before the election, as the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives turned up the heat on senior Republicans over coronavirus aid.

Ms Pelosi will meet Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, on Monday as the two look to thrash out differences over proposed relief measures which could amount to about $2tn.

The pair have been negotiating for weeks over the latest proposals, which are intended to alleviate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and are likely to include increased unemployment benefits. The pair spoke for more than an hour on Saturday, after which Ms Pelosi said the two sides still did not agree on what the bill should say about testing and about protecting minority communities.

She told ABC News on Sunday: “We don’t have agreement on the language yet, but I’m hopeful.”

Referring to the 48-hour deadline originally mentioned by Drew Hammill, her deputy chief of staff on Saturday night, Ms Pelosi added: “The 48 only relates to if we want to get it done before the election, which we do.”

“But we’re saying to them, we have to freeze the design on some of these things. Are we going with it or not and what is the language? I’m optimistic because, again, we’ve been back and forth on all of this.”

Donald Trump, the US president, has sounded a similarly optimistic note about a stimulus agreement in recent days, he was willing to offer more than the $1.8tn that the White House has put forward. Ms Pelosi wants to inject $2.2tn into the economy, and has passed a bill to do so through the Democratically controlled House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the economic toll of the pandemic continues to mount, with unemployment figures last week showing nearly 900,000 people had made new requests for jobless benefits. Many worry the economic situation is likely to get worse over the winter, with rising numbers of new cases and hospitalisations suggesting a fresh wave of the disease is already engulfing the US.

The main impediment to a deal, however, remains Republicans in the Senate, who continue to push for a far smaller package.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, on Saturday said he would hold a vote this week on a smaller $500bn bill, as well as a separate vote on a standalone Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses.

Mr Mnuchin and Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, held a call with Republican senators last week to urge them to back the White House offer.

But they were met with opposition. Lamar Alexander, the Republican senator from Tennessee, reportedly told them: “There’s no appetite right now to spend the White House number or the House number.”

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