US airlines await new shot in federal aid as Pelosi, Mnuchin talks

CHICAGO / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American Airlines was again expecting another $ 25 billion in payroll aid after a discussion by household speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Menuchin on the possibility of standalone legislation for the struggling region.

An aircraft passes through the Air Traffic Control Tower at the airport on July 18, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, US. REUTERS / Lucy Nichonson / Files

Their conversation was the latest in a series of turbulent developments on the prospects of relief for airlines in recent weeks, which triggered an absconding of tens of thousands of employees last week.

The airline’s stock jumped on Wednesday after a sudden drowning a day earlier over President Donald Trump’s comment that his administration would abandon talks with congressional Democrats over a major stimulus package following the November 3 election.

But a way forward is not clear.

The airlines’ relief request has broad bipartisan support, but House of Representatives Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio failed last week to win approval of a standalone bipartisan measure for airlines by some Republicans unanimously.

Pelosi on Wednesday asked Menucchin on the phone to review DeFazio’s bill “so that they could have an informed conversation,” his spokesman Drew Hamill wrote on Twitter.

Hemill said he spoke again for 20 minutes on Wednesday evening and agreed to continue the discussion on Thursday.

A separate Republican-led attempt to pass standalone legislation in the Senate failed even after opposition from three Republican senators, including Rick Scott of Florida.

A spokesman for Scott told Reuters on Wednesday that he was waiting to hear if an amendment to that proposal would lead to a vote.

The Republican bill proposes to take unexpected funds from the first COVID-19 relief package, while the House Democrats’ proposal does not include any cuts to current spending to fund the program.

Without a consensus, any standalone bill would have to go to both chambers for one vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate was struggling with some COVID-19 cases, which would go out on October 19.

Pelosi’s talks with Mennuchin as the Trump administration indicated possible piecemeal legislation for airlines the day after they left talks of at least $ 1.6 trillion in additional coronovirus relief funds.

A key component of the fresh airline relief is hiring workers for the next six months. A former $ 25 billion airline payroll support program expired on September 30.

American Airlines and United Airlines launched furloughs of 32,000 workers last week, and tens of thousands more in those airlines agreed to voluntary leaves or fewer hours. Southwest Airlines warned that if employees did not agree to pay the deduction in the absence of federal aid, it would have to carry out the first furlough in its history.

US Airlines in a letter on Wednesday urged top House and Senate leaders to pursue a standalone bill, warning that if aid was not extended, many more job losses in the industry would be expected in the coming weeks .

The letter was signed by the main industry lobby, Airlines for America and a dozen unions.

Reporting by Tracy Rukinski in Chicago and David Sheperdason in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney


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