October 7, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

Pelosi, Mnuchin Talk Airline Aid After Trump Nixes Big Stimulus

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked Oct. 7 about airline aid.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked Oct. 7 about a targeted airline relief bill. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled openness to a standalone airline relief bill in a telephone conversation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the morning of Oct. 7 after President Donald Trump pulled his negotiators from broader stimulus talks.

“The secretary inquired about a standalone airlines bill. The speaker reminded him that Republicans blocked that bill on Oct. 2 & asked him to review the DeFazio bill so that they could have an informed conversation,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted.

Mnuchin’s call underscores the Trump administration’s concern about the state of the airline industry, which has been walloped by the COVID-19 crisis and seen tens of thousands of job cuts. Help for the carriers had been part of a broader coronavirus relief package negotiation, which Trump abruptly ended Oct. 6.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio on Oct. 2 attempted to pass an extension of expiring aid for airlines on the House floor by unanimous consent, but Republicans objected, saying they hadn’t been consulted.

House Bill

The DeFazio legislation would provide more than $28 billion for airlines and contractors if they held off on layoffs until March 31, 2021.

Blaming Pelosi for being unwilling to come down from what he viewed as an excessive comprehensive stimulus package, Trump in a series of Oct. 6 tweets called on Democrats to pass standalone bills. He said he’d sign a airline relief bill, along with legislation for $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals.

U.S. carriers have furloughed about 38,000 people since Oct. 1, including major layoffs at American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. Those cuts followed the departure of 150,000 who left airlines voluntarily or accepted leave. Pelosi urged the airlines to postpone layoffs the week of Sept. 28, promising that relief was imminent.

RELATED: American, United to Lay Off 32,000 as Aid Talks Drag On

“We will either enact Chairman DeFazio’s bipartisan standalone legislation or achieve this as part of a comprehensive negotiated relief bill, extending for another six months the Payroll Support Program,” she said in a statement on Oct. 2.

Republican Version

Republicans at the time said the DeFazio bill had been sprung on them without a budget score, and they pointed to an alternative bill sponsored by Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker. That Republican bill funded aid for carriers using unspent stimulus money from earlier in the year. A House companion version has 100 sponsors and co-sponsors, including dozens of Democrats.

Apart from airline help, Pelosi hasn’t so far signaled she’d be open to passing other individual elements of the broader stimulus package that had been under discussion. Doing that would erode any leverage she has to secure the level of spending she wants for state and local government aid, food assistance, unemployment insurance and other priorities, Democrats say.

A House Democratic aide said that a comprehensive response to the coronavirus is about a lot more than checks, since such payments don’t support testing and contact tracing, safely reopen the economy or prevent surging state and local layoffs.

Federal Reserve officials led by Chairman Jerome Powell have stepped up their calls for a broad relief package to help the unemployed and endangered businesses, highlighting concern about undermining the economic recovery.

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