No airline relief without broader COVID package: Speaker Pelosi:
Nancy Pelosi (Nicholas Kamm AFP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday no "standalone" relief for US airlines would pass Congress without guarantees that the White House and Republicans would back a broader Covid-19 stimulus package.

"I have been very open to having a standalone bill for the airlines, or part of a bigger bill. But there is no standalone bill without a bigger bill," the top Democrat in Washington told reporters.

"We have come to some areas of agreement" in the trillion-dollar negotiations, she added, "but they have walked away from the full package."

President Donald Trump on Tuesday dramatically halted talks on a stimulus plan to boost the pandemic-ravaged US economy.

He then turned around to say he wanted Congress to "immediately" pass a separate $25 billion airline relief measure and $135 billion to protect small businesses.

On Thursday the president said there were "really good" odds of reaching a deal with Democrats in Congress on a new round of coronavirus relief.

US air carriers received billions in aid from Congress this year in exchange for a promise to refrain from laying off workers, but that pledge was in effect only through October 1.

Though they have sought to minimize layoffs through voluntary work leave and early retirement programs, American and United airlines last week said they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers, while indicating the moves could be walked back if there is a breakthrough in Congress.

Pelosi, while slamming the administration for failing to tackle the pandemic, did acknowledge the talks were not doomed, but rather ongoing.

"We've told the White House we're at the table, we want to continue the conversation," she said, adding that "we've made some progress.

But Pelosi also made clear the negotiations needed to move beyond numbers, to legislative language, so that Congress does not hand a "blank check" to Trump.

"We have our differences in numbers, but it's no use having just a numbers discussion unless we know what that money is spent on," she said, adding that Democrats insist on strong pandemic response as part of any package Trump signs.

"One thing that has to be in this bill, that he has never made as a priority, is crushing the virus, instead of the denial, delay, distortion and lack of reality that the president has all along brought to this," said Pelosi.

© 2020 AFP