Congressional leaders expressed optimism Tuesday that Congress could pass legislation this week to avert a nationwide freight rail strike.
The leaders spoke with reporters outside the White House following a meeting with President Joe Biden on the legislative agenda for the remainder of the year.
During that meeting, Biden called again on lawmakers to step in and impose a tentative agreement between railroads and workers to prevent a potentially crippling rail strike. The impasse over paid sick leave benefits threatened a rail stoppage beginning Dec. 9.
The legislation urged by Biden would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by his administration that was ultimately voted down by four of the 12 unions representing more than 100,000 employees at large freight rail carriers.
As she emerged from the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will schedule a vote on that deal Wednesday morning.
"We will bring that agreement to the floor," Pelosi said. "It's not everything I would like to see. I think that we should have paid sick leave. Every country, every developed country in the world has it. We don't. But nonetheless, we have an improved situation."
Pelosi said she doesn't like "going against the ability of the unions to strike," but said, "weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike. Jobs will be lost, even union jobs will be lost. Water will not be safe."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy followed, saying legislation to avert a rail strike should not even be needed but admittng he thinks "it will pass."
"It's unfortunate that we're here because I know the president told us all that this was solved long before the election. And now we find ourselves in the last moments, in the last hours, asking us to rush a bill to the floor. Nobody wants the economy to fail. Nobody wants this to happen," McCarthy said.
Hundreds of business groups have been urging Congress and the president to step into the deadlocked contract talks and prevent a strike.
Both the unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress while talks continue.
If Congress acts, it will end negotiations between the railroads and four rail unions that rejected their deals Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September. Eight other unions have approved their five-year deals with the railroads and are in the process of getting back pay for their workers for the 24% raises that are retroactive to 2020.