(Bloomberg) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with airline and aviation union officials on Friday and said she believes there is bipartisan support for aid to the industry but only as part of a broader stimulus.
That approach is at odds with the White House, which yesterday expressed support for a narrow bill to avert thousands of layoffs when a prohibition on job cuts in the industry expires at the end of the month.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with airline leaders Thursday and said afterward that the industry needs $25 billion. He said it should be passed in a separate measure next week.
Pelosi has opposed piecemeal virus relief bills as part of her strategy for Democrats to win agreement on a multitrillion-dollar relief measure.
She and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, spoke to airline executives and labor leaders in separate phone calls Friday.
In a statement from her office, she said she was glad Republican support for airline jobs relief has finally grown “so that there will be bipartisan support for inclusion in a covid bill that meets the health and economic crisis facing all sectors of our country.”
Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group Airlines for America, said after the call that he was encouraged by the bipartisan support for aid.
“We had a very productive discussion with Speaker Pelosi and Chairman DeFazio this afternoon, focusing on the urgency for Congress and the Administration to reach a compromise on a package and extend the Payroll Support Program,” Calio said in a statement.
American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. confirmed that their chief executive officers participated in the discussion with Pelosi, and declined further comment. United Airlines Holdings Inc. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Friday, Pelosi said in an interview on Bloomberg Television that she’s willing to negotiate on some Democratic priorities for a stimulus package to include aid for industries such as airlines and restaurants that are continuing to struggle amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But, she said, she’s not backing away from the $2.2 trillion package that she and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer proposed before negotiations with the White House broke off last month.
However, since the House passed its stimulus bill in May, “other issues have emerged” as the virus has continued to disrupt lives and businesses, and those need to be addressed in any new plan, Pelosi said.
She gave no specifics about how much aid should go to airlines and other businesses, like restaurants, or what priorities might have to be dropped or scaled back as a trade-off.
Earlier: White House Wants More Airline Aid, Meadows Says After Talks
Meadows, after the meeting with airline executives on Thursday, said “If we’re going to get something separate prior to that deadline, it’s going to have to happen next week.”
That would ensure it gets to Trump’s desk before layoffs begin on Oct. 1, he said.
Republicans have rejected the $2.2 trillion Democratic plan, but President Donald Trump has signaled that he could support a bigger stimulus package than the $1.1 trillion proposal his administration had previously backed.
“It will get done when they come to the table,” Pelosi said of Republicans. “The ball is in their court.”
Doug Andres, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had no immediate comment Friday evening when asked if McConnell had talked with the aviation and labor leaders, or his response to their urging for more relief.
Airlines have warned that they plan mass reductions after an existing federal prohibition on job cuts expires at the close of business on Sept. 30.
Many Americans abandoned air travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. airport security portals screened only 30% of the number of airline passengers in the past seven days compared to the total a year ago, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
American Airlines said in August it would cut 19,000 employees once federal payroll aid expires, capping a 30% workforce reduction since the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed travel demand. United warned of more than 16,000 potential cuts, saying it expected no meaningful recovery in travel until a coronavirus treatment or vaccine is widely available.
Pelosi also said the standoff on the stimulus won’t interfere with passage of a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. She said the House was getting ready to release legislation on Friday, giving both chambers of Congress enough time to act before the deadline.
She said the two parties are still negotiating the duration of the stopgap funding, which is needed because work still isn’t completed on full funding legislation.
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