House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters during a news conference...

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters during a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is thinking “big” about another massive coronavirus federal aid package that could be put up for a vote as soon as this upcoming week to set the table for negotiations with Republicans and the White House.

House Democrats’ top priorities for that include $500 billion to $1 trillion for state and local governments, billions more for testing and contact tracing, and billions to put money in the pockets of Americans through direct payments, extended unemployment insurance, small-business loans and other initiatives, Pelosi said Friday.

The marker that Pelosi (D-Calif.) puts down will launch a partisan and ideological battle over what would be a fifth major infusion of money into a plunging economy with the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression as November’s national election looms.

On Friday, President Donald Trump said he is in “no rush” for more federal aid. His economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and Republican leaders said they are open to another aid bill but only after a pause to determine if the nearly $7 trillion in grants and loans is working.

“We’ve kind of paused as far as formal negotiations go,” said Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council. “Let’s have a look at what the latest round produces, give it a month or so to evaluate that.”

Yet in response to C-SPAN host Steve Scully’s question Friday about the estimated price tag of the Democrats’ legislation, Pelosi said, “We’re working on it. Big.” Scully asked, “$1 trillion, $2 trillion?” Pelosi said, “You’re getting warmer.” Scully then asked, “$3 trillion?”

Pelosi deflected that question by complaining that no one cared when Republicans enacted the deep tax cuts in 2017 that primarily benefit the top 1% and added nearly $2 trillion to the national debt.

If Pelosi decides to hold a vote on the aid bill this week, she would have to reopen the House that has been closed on the House physician’s recommendation, and recall the 430 sitting representatives to Washington.

Already, Republicans and Democrats are publicly sparring over issues dear to each side.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted that the next bill must include a liability waiver for employers to stave off lawsuits by their workers who face risks of getting COVID-19 infections on the job, a non-starter for Democrats.

Trump has talked about reducing or eliminating payroll taxes and capital gains taxes to encourage hiring and investment, but those proposals have met with skepticism by members of both sides of the aisle.

Democrats have made public calls to bail out the staggering U.S. Postal Service, put up billions for mail-in ballots for the November election, raise the value of food stamps and invest in broadband for unconnected rural and inner-city residents — all met with some GOP skepticism.

The biggest battle is shaping up to be over more direct funding to states and cities, despite some bipartisan support. McConnell has opposed what he calls “blue-state bailouts” though he said he is open to some state aid. 

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have rebranded that funding as “honor our heroes” — the essential workers who risk contracting the virus while others stay at home.

The Treasury Department countered by allowing states and local governments to use the $150 billion from the CARES Act enacted in late March for first responders.

Schumer on MSNBC Friday cast the current debate over more aid as a repeat of the approaches of Democrats and Republicans for the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Democrats now are working on “Rooseveltian-type action,” Schumer said, referring to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, but Republicans’ call for a pause reflects President Herbert Hoover’s opposition to federal involvement in the economy.

To develop the aid package, Pelosi has held twice-a-week conference calls with her caucus and has been regularly speaking with her committee chairs, who submitted their requests and ideas for the package Thursday. Pelosi and her staff spent six hours reviewing them Friday.

A debate among Democrats is over whether to propose a narrower bill that Republicans would have a hard time opposing or to include everything everyone wants, especially among the progressive wing, to keep the Democrats united at the starting point of negotiations.

Pelosi continued to work through the weekend on the final legislation, with no date certain when she would unveil it, an aide said.

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