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House Democrats consider new push on coronavirus relief

With the House returning to deal with Postal Service funding, some Democrats are concerned about the stalemate over a bigger pandemic package.
Image: Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on Capitol Hill on Aug. 13, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — As Congress remains deadlocked over how large a second coronavirus relief package should be, amid rising concerns about the U.S. Postal Service operations ahead of November's election, House Democrats are considering a vote on a scaled-back version of the Heroes Act, multiple sources told NBC News.

The House is returning this weekend to vote on a Postal Service bill to help prepare for an expected dramatic rise in mail-in voting and some Democratic lawmakers want the party to push forward on pandemic relief funding that mostly ran out at the end of July.

The push is a major development in the funding stalemate as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to stress that the House already passed legislation — the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act.

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It was floated Monday on Democratic caucus call by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a close ally of the House Democratic Whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, according to multiple sources. Richmond called for a vote on a $2 trillion to $2.4 trillion relief bill, similar to what Pelosi offered as a middle point in negotiations with the administration.

While the move would risk creating a new, slimmed-down benchmark in the Democrats’ position, some members say it is worth the attempt to show Republicans — and the American people — that they are willing to compromise.

“The idea is being discussed by members,” a senior Democratic aide said, adding that if it did happen, it would not happen Saturday when the House votes on the Postal Service bill.

The idea is gaining traction among rank-and-file members, especially those who are facing tough re-elections in November. They are anxious to deliver to their constituents and worried about looking like they are willing to save the post office but not help those struggling economically because of the pandemic.

“Yes, we need to save the post office, but we can’t forget about the real crisis many of our working families are facing,” Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., said. “So let’s save the post office and work together to provide relief to struggling families, businesses and communities everywhere. Washington needs to stop the politics and get something done. Don’t send us home without it.”

Another House Democrat put it this way: “Frankly, to return to D.C. and vote to protect the USPS from ruin without voting to protect people and businesses from further ruin would be inexcusable.”

Federal unemployment benefits, an eviction moratorium and the small-business Paycheck Protection Program have all expired, and the Heroes Act would renew those programs, as well as provide more funding for food assistance, rental assistance, schools, states and COVID-19 testing.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second highest ranking Democrat in the House, is supportive of taking up a coronavirus relief bill, according to multiple sources.

Hoyer did not close the door on another vote on the House Democratic conference call Monday, according to two sources familiar with the call.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are also considering introducing a coronavirus relief bill that includes $10 billion for the Postal Service, Republican sources said.

Pelosi has accused Republicans of failing to fund the Postal Service as she has held out for a coronavirus relief package that’s much broader in scope and scale than what the GOP has been willing to approve.

The Senate vote would give Republicans a way to message a spiraling crisis over mail-in voting and the post office's ability to handle it amid a slew of recent cutbacks to the service, as well as to set up attacks against Democrats by saying they care more about mail-in ballots than the unemployed.

The Republican plan would include the $10 billion for the Postal Service, the compromise number from previous coronavirus negotiations, $300 per week in federal unemployment insurance benefits, another round of the Paycheck Protection Program and money for schools and COVID-19 testing.

There is no indication yet that the Senate would return from its recess to vote for such a plan.