By Patricia Zengerle and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said Democrats were open to delaying an October recess to get a deal with Republicans on a new coronavirus aid bill, as the White House signaled that a $1.5 trillion proposal unveiled by moderates deserved consideration.
With the U.S. presidential and congressional elections less than two months away, Congress and the White House have been unable to agree on a fifth coronavirus bill, having approved more than $3 trillion worth of measures earlier this year.
"We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement," Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a CNBC interview, adding that there were disagreements with Republicans on how to "crush the virus" that has now killed nearly 195,000 people in the United States.
President Donald Trump said he was trying to reach a deal with Democrats on additional stimulus. "Just before I came here we had some pretty good talks with the Democrats, will see," he said at an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia.
The House was scheduled to recess no later than Oct. 2 so members can campaign at home for re-election on Nov. 3. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said lawmakers could be on indefinite standby, with 24 hours notice of any vote on a coronavirus aid bill if a deal is reached.
The difficulties in reaching such an agreement were on full display as lawmakers from varying points along the political spectrum attacked a compromise floated by the House "Problem Solvers Caucus," a bipartisan group of dozens of centrist lawmakers.
Some conservatives labeled it as too expensive at $1.5 trillion. And liberals, including some senior House Democrats, complained it fell far short of what was needed to boost an economy plagued by the pandemic, and to save lives.
But the White House said the proposal deserved consideration.
"It's a very thoughtful proposal. It certainly doesn't align with a view of the priorities that the president has," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Reuters.
"But it's certainly worth discussion and worth consideration and if that's something that the speaker is willing to kind of quasi-embrace, I think it provides a real opening for further discussions," he said.
Meanwhile, Congress is expected to focus in coming weeks on passing legislation funding the government beyond Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Hoyer said that a stopgap money bill to avert government shutdowns would be put to a House vote next week.
The Problem Solvers proposal drew praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which called it "a reasonable middle ground," while urging inclusion of liability protections for businesses.
'WE NEED TO GET SOMETHING DONE'
The Problem Solvers Caucus, including 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans, has been working to find common ground on coronavirus relief for the past six weeks.
Some of Pelosi's Democrats are expressing an increased sense of urgency. "We need to get something done," Representative Conor Lamb said. "I agree we should stay as long as we possibly can to fight for an outcome."
The gulf between Democrats in Congress and the White House is wide. In mid-May, the House approved a $3.4 trillion aid plan. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded by calling for a "pause" in any new funds.
By late July, he offered a $1 trillion bill that many of his fellow Republicans rejected, only to then put a $300 billion bill up for a vote that Democrats blocked as insufficient. Meanwhile, Pelosi had offered to drop her aid demand to $2.4 trillion and the White House signaled a willingness to accept $1.3 trillion.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Timothy Gardner, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)