Coronavirus Relief: Nancy Pelosi Declines to Hold Vote on Smaller Bill to Expand Unemployment Benefits

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about stalled congressional deal with the Trump administration on the latest coronavirus relief during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., August 13, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) on Thursday rejected a request by some House Democrats to vote to extend unemployment benefits through a smaller coronavirus relief package, saying it could undercut negotiations on other Democratic funding priorities. 

More than 100 House Democrats had urged party leaders to allow a vote on a bill on Saturday to restore the $600 weekly unemployment benefit for workers that expired in July. The speaker said she supports tying unemployment insurance payments to economic metrics like the unemployment rate, rather than having the benefits expire on arbitrary dates, but that the timing was wrong to hold a vote. 

“That’s a very positive initiative. I have encouraged that, I have welcomed that suggestion,” Pelosi said during an interview on “PBS NewsHour.”

“I don’t think strategically it’s where we should go right now, because the Republicans would like to pass something like that and say forget about it,” Pelosi continued. “Forget about state and local [government funding], forget about our investments in stopping the virus, forget about other initiatives that feed the food insecure children in our country, vote by mail initiatives and the rest.”

“I don’t think the timing is for us to do it right now, because, imagine, the Republicans could take that into the Senate, put poison pills all over it. And it’s hard to vote against extending unemployment benefits,” she said. “And, again, I think, overwhelmingly, our members — who would not want to extend unemployment benefits? As I say, it’s something I fully support, and the stabilization, but not necessarily in the negotiation.”

Pelosi said she does not foresee any bill being passed in the coming days as Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over how to restore the benefits. Democrats have pushed for a $3.4 trillion aid package that would include the full $600 weekly benefit and federal funding to support mail-in ballots, while Republicans proposed a smaller $1 trillion package with a smaller weekly benefit.

Amid the partisan fighting, President Trump signed an executive order to replace the expired $600 weekly benefit with a reduced $300 weekly payment. 

House Democrats had urged Pelosi to hold a vote on Saturday, as she had already called the House back into session from recess to vote that day on legislation that would block any changes to U.S. Postal Service operations ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

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