Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, has ruled out providing new aid to troubled US airlines in the absence of a broader fiscal stimulus deal with the Trump administration, raising the stakes in the talks.
The comments from Ms Pelosi on Thursday marked the latest chapter in the political drama over new relief measures for the slowing American recovery. Donald Trump, the US president, on Tuesday said he was walking away from the negotiations on a stimulus package but after a strong backlash he has reversed course and sought to revive the talks.
Ms Pelosi had last week said that airlines, which are implementing thousands of furloughs and job cuts this month, would receive assistance either through a standalone bill or as part of broader stimulus legislation.
On Thursday, however, her position shifted as she sought to drive a harder bargain by saying that airlines would only receive help if a big package was agreed.
$2.2tn the stimulus package proposed by Democrats
“There is no standalone bill [for the airlines] without a bigger bill,” Ms Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding congressional Democrats needed a “guarantee” that the White House would agree to help for state and local government employees, measures to curb the coronavirus, and aid for the unemployed and poor children.
The prospects for a broader deal remain very hazy. Democrats have proposed spending $2.2tn on a new fiscal package, while Republicans have offered $1.6tn, still leaving a big gap between the sides.
On Thursday morning Mr Trump was optimistic that talks could be revived. “Well, I shut down talks two days ago because they weren’t working out. Now they are starting to work out, we’re starting to have some very productive talks,” he told Fox Business Network.
The House speaker “wants it to happen, because it’s so good for our country, we really need it”, Mr Trump said. But Ms Pelosi, who has been negotiating with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has been more cagey.
“We have been working on what the language would look like,” she said. “We have our differences in numbers, but it’s no use having just a numbers discussion, unless we know what the money is spent on. Otherwise, we’re just giving . . . more than $2tn to the president to spend any way he wants but not to address the issues at hand.”
With the chances of a deal before the November 3 election so uncertain, many economists have been downgrading their forecasts for economic growth in the fourth quarter, suggesting that the recovery may stall or come close to stalling in the absence of further fiscal support.
An agreement could still come after the election or early next year, depending on the outcome of the vote, but the concern is that every day that passes could bring more lasting damage to the US economy.
This week Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, warned that the risks of “too little” fiscal stimulus outweighed the danger of doing too much at this point in the cycle.
First-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week but remained elevated, underscoring the sluggish improvement of the US labour market. According to data from the US labour department on Thursday, 1.3m Americans signed up for benefits in the past week.