WASHINGTON – White House negotiators say talks with Congressional Democrats have collapsed over a coronavirus stimulus package and they will recommend President Donald Trump take executive action this weekend on a number of programs aimed at to help Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., met for more than two hours on Friday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff of the White House Mark Meadows in a final rescue attempt. discussions now in their second week. But the effort was unsuccessful, with both sides admitting they were at a standstill with no real way forward.
“The president would like us to make the deal, but unfortunately we haven’t made any progress,” Mnuchin said after the two-hour meeting. “The Chief and I will recommend to the President, based on our lack of activity today, to go ahead with some decrees.”
Mnuchin said he and Meadows would ask Trump to take charge over the weekend.
Trump has threatened to use executive orders to expand a handful of programs Americans have relied on since the coronavirus began hitting the U.S. economy in March if the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The legality of such orders remains unclear, and the president has largely avoided questions about the constitutionality of acting unilaterally on such programs.
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Mnuchin said the actions of the president’s executive could relate to at least three relief programs established in previous coronavirus legislation:
- Unemployment: A weekly unemployment benefit of $ 600 expired on July 31, leaving many unemployed Americans in a state of financial limbo. It’s unclear whether the president can extend the benefit or reduce it to a lower amount, which many Republicans have requested.
- Evictions: A federal moratorium on evictions expired on July 24, putting tenants in more than 12 million rental units across the country at risk if they miss payments. The president said he wanted to extend those protections to ensure tenants were not evicted due to the pandemic.
- Student loans: Congress has also suspended payments on some student loans due to the virus. The provision will expire at the end of September. The president is expected to extend its expiration, although its duration is unclear.
In addition to the three programs Mnuchin listed, the president also said he could act on reducing payroll taxes, an idea he pushed for months without success.
“It’s going to take us a little while to finalize and process this, but we’ll do them as quickly as possible because the president wants action,” Mnuchin said of the decrees.
The two sides had set a voluntary deadline to reach an agreement by Friday. And the president later on Friday said the White House “would go a different way.”
“Pelosi and Schumer are only interested in financial bailouts for poorly managed Democratic cities and states,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nothing to do with the virus from China! You want a trillion dollars. No interest. We’re going otherwise!”
State and local funding that the president pointed out had become a major point of contention in the negotiations, with Democrats still wanting around $ 1 trillion, arguing that many taxpayer-funded police, firefighters and other workers risked losing money. ‘to be made redundant.
The Republicans, in their own proposed stimulus package, had set nothing aside for local governments which have seen their revenues cut due to the pandemic. They argued that many states in need of funds were run by Democrats who for years had mismanaged budgets. The White House increased its offer to $ 150 billion during negotiations, but it was quickly rejected by Democrats.
“If we come to an agreement on state and local government and unemployment, we will come to a comprehensive agreement and if we cannot, we cannot,” Mnuchin said after Friday’s meeting, stressing how point the question was central in the negotiations.
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Democrats painted a grim picture of the way forward, saying Republicans refused to meet in the middle on a host of issues.
“It was a disappointing meeting,” Schumer said afterwards. “We ask them to come back and negotiate but (they have to) realize that the House is Democratic, they need a majority of Democratic votes in the Senate. Meet us in the middle! Thank God for the sake of the ‘America, meet us in the middle. “
Asked about the next steps for a bill, Pelosi said she asked White House negotiators to come back “when you’re ready to give us a higher number.”
Mnuchin said there were no plans for another meeting, but he left the door open for further negotiations, telling reporters: “The chief and I will be back here at any time to hear news. proposals “.
Over the days of talks, the two sides made a series of concessions, but the changes were met with fairly straightforward rejections. Pelosi said on Friday that Democrats had offered to reduce the overall price of their proposal by $ 1 trillion, an attempt to meet between the House’s $ 3 trillion package and the Senate’s $ 1 trillion measure.
Mnuchin called the offer a “non-runner”.
Mnuchin and Meadows also made offers, such as increasing funds for state and local governments, for which Republicans initially had nothing designated, and more money for those claiming unemployment.
Democrats rejected the offers and said they were not enough to meet the needs of struggling families.
The democratic plan:House passes $ 3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, faces Republican-led Senate crackdown
The GOP’s proposal:Mitch McConnell unveils $ 1 trillion pandemic aid package to criticism from Republicans and Democrats
The Democratic-led House passed the HEROES Act, a roughly $ 3.4 trillion bill that would provide a second round of direct payments to millions of Americans, nearly $ 1 trillion to states and Local governments run out of revenue and billions for housing and food aid.
The Republican-controlled Senate introduced its counter-proposal, the HEALS Act, a $ 1.1 trillion package that also includes out-of-pocket payments, but no federal assistance for housing, food, or state and local governments . He hasn’t gone through the bedroom yet.
Schumer, at a Friday afternoon press conference, targeted Meadows, a former congressman and leader of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus, saying he was “from the Tea Party” and that he was There were “20 Republicans in the Senate greatly influenced by them (the Tea Party)” who did not want to spend more on coronavirus relief.
He said Meadows’ role in the talks was another hurdle compared to previous discussions on past coronavirus bills, saying his “positions are quite hardened and not compromising, more than Mnuchin.”
The stalemate in the negotiations comes as the country continues to feel the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, raising the stakes for Congress and the White House to quickly find a solution.
Friday’s jobs report showed the unemployment rate fell to 10.2% in July from 11.1% in June. The Labor Department said on Thursday that about 1.2 million people had filed an initial claim for unemployment insurance in the previous week, bringing the total number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits to 55 million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
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A $ 600 increase in unemployment benefits introduced in the last major coronavirus relief bill in March also expired last week, throwing millions of Americans who were counting on the added benefit into financial limbo.
Republicans have raised the possibility of a short-term deal to extend a cut in unemployment benefits and reinstate a moratorium on some evictions, but Democrats have dismissed the possibility.
Pelosi reiterated Democrats’ opposition to a short-term benefit extension in an MSNBC interview on Friday, calling it an “excuse” for Republicans to say they took action.
Contributor: Michael Collins