Democrats, the party of government, are torn over coronavirus relief

So when House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries took the stage on Sept. 15, his assertion that his party “remained united” strained credulity. And it quickly became apparent that Democratic leaders might be blinking.

Lines in the sand are disappearing. First, Democrats said that the $3.4 trillion relief bill they passed in May should be the starting point for negotiation. In August, Pelosi said she’d take $1.2 trillion less. Jeffries, who represents hard-hit Brooklyn, New York, backtracked further, saying the party would go down to “at least” Pelosi’s lower number “and then try to find common ground at that point.”

Even as they said it was inadequate, Democratic leaders are getting closer to the Problem Solvers’ $1.5 trillion proposal, a funding level the White House has signaled it could accept. Then it’s not far to the $1.1 trillion Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’d spend in July.

One thing that stands in the way of a deal, now, is Democratic leaders’ reluctance to so publicly fold on the broader demands they made in the May bill they call the HEROES Act, with its $1 trillion for state and local governments and its rental and nutrition assistance, all of which Pelosi has previously deemed essential and nonnegotiable.

Judging by its inclusion in the Problem Solvers’ offering, Democrats might also have to accept liability protections for businesses, schools and health care providers that McConnell demands but that they have warned would allow businesses to ignore the dangers of the virus in order to reopen. That will be tough to swallow.

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