Pelosi, White House spokeswoman optimistic on COVID-19 aid talks; Kudlow more cautious

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said negotiators were making progress in talks with the Trump administration for another round of financial aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that legislation could be hammered out “pretty soon.”

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Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, was due to resume negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later on Thursday, as the two sides try to reach a deal that could be worth around $2 trillion before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional races.

“I’m pleased (with) where we are now,” Pelosi told reporters. “It’s close. It’s close. And the question is, where will the president be at any given moment? He’s been all over the map.”

Republican President Donald Trump, who has recently called for more stimulus as he trails Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in national opinion polls, appeared to cast doubt on a deal on Wednesday by saying he could not see any way for Democrats to agree on a stimulus package.

“Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

But on Thursday morning, White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told Fox Business Network: “This is really the most optimistic we’ve felt about getting a deal.”

However, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow cautioned there were still “significant policy differences” with Democrats and said these were unlikely to be resolved with the Nov. 3 election less than two weeks away.

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Speaking to reporters at the White House, Kudlow suggested that if there’s agreement on aid for the unemployed, small businesses, airlines and schools, “let’s just get that done.”

Pelosi said the two sides were narrowing differences on how to attack the pandemic and on aid to state and local governments, which has been a major hurdle.

“We’re coming closer to what we must do: crush the virus, honor our heroes, our state and local governments,” Pelosi said.

She said talks were also focused on aid to schools and on tax credits to help lower-income Americans hit hard by the pandemic, which has killed more than 221,000 people and left millions jobless.

But a comprehensive deal faces resistance from Senate Republicans, who have expressed concern about the ballooning federal deficit.

Pelosi said an aid agreement would need Republican support: “We have to have strong bipartisanship on the legislation that we come together on. I would hope that we could have bipartisanship in the House and in the Senate.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he would be “very uncomfortable” with a big aid package in an interview with CNBC, but also acknowledged: “That said, I think the price of not doing something is even higher.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, also does not want to bring a large bill to the Senate floor before the election, as he focuses on trying to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

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