Talks on a coronavirus relief package that would restore extra unemployment benefits to millions of Americans have stalled as negotiators began the blame game.
Both sides admitted the odds of an agreement are uncertain ahead of the Friday deadline President Donald Trump gave, threatening to act via executive order if no legislative deal is possible.
The deadlock shifts the onus onto the president and whether he will implement those orders or if conversations will continue.
The tone on Capitol Hill Thursday night took a notable shift, however, going from hopeful talk that an agreement could be reached to who is to blame.
It’s also unclear – after 10 meetings that have resulted in no agreement – if the four principal negotiators – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for the Democrats and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin – will sit down again on Friday for one last try.
With talks on a coronavirus relief package stalled, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged Republicans with not wanting to do enough to help those hit economically by the coronavirus pandemic
Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin charged Democrats with refusing to compromise
After a three-hour meeting on Thursday in Speaker Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office, the negotiators emerged with no agreement and pointing the finger at the other side.
‘The differences are still significant,’ Meadows said after the talks concluded for the day.
At one point, Pelosi accused Meadows of slamming a table and walking out during the talks, which he denied.
‘I just would like to say that I saw something familiar in the room. You know, I’ve been in the White House when the President has slammed the table and walked out. Well that’s really what Mr. Meadows did — slam the table and walk out,’ she told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Meadows denied her charge.
‘I don’t know what she is talking about. I didn’t walk out of any meeting all day,’ he said. ‘It’s fabricated.’
The tense exchange illustrated where talks are left – stalled in the dark with nothing but accusations from the two sides.
‘There’s a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart’ on, Mnuchin said, citing aid to states and local governments and renewing the supplemental unemployment benefits.
Republicans insisted they’ve raised their original numbers when it comes to the overall deal – they wanted a $1 trillion package while Democrats proposed a $3.4 trillion one – but Democrats countered it wasn’t enough to help out-of-work Americans and to counter the economic hit of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘We asked them, would you meet us in the middle, and they said no, it has to be mostly in our direction,’ Schumer said.
But Meadows claimed Democrats were being stubborn.
‘The compromises that Secretary Mnuchin and I put forth on behalf of the president are significantly greater than the compromises that we saw from the other side of the negotiating table,’ he said.
‘We are willing to do a smaller deal,’ Mnuchin said. ‘We have been willing to do a short term expansion on the enhanced unemployment we’ve been willing to do a short term extension on other issues while we’re negotiating. We are very concerned that these issues exist and we want solutions.’
President Donald Trump has threatened to issue executive orders on Friday on unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions if no legislative deal is reached
President Trump has threatened to issue executive orders on Friday on unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions.
But the White House has admitted his power is limited in those areas and Democrats said the orders would be legally challenged.
‘Certainly there are limitations with what we can do from an executive order point of view but we will be as aggressive and robust as we possibly can be,’ Meadows said.
‘The president is the one that always would prefer to work with Congress but if Congress proves themselves unable to actually make any kind of compromise and address this he is prepared to act by himself,’ he added.
President Trump is at his Bedminister, New Jersey golf club on Friday. He was in Ohio on Thursday but called Meadows several times to check in on the status of the talks.
‘These executive orders, which will leave most people out, will not cover the broad expanse of what’s needed, will be litigated in court and be awkward and difficult to implement. It’s not a good choice at all, and they admitted that in the room they said that’s not a good choice. So we plead with them,’ Schumer said.
The group of negotiators has met daily since Monday but the talks remain stalled on the same issues: how much extra unemployment insurance (Democrats want to return to the $600 per week while Republicans want $400), how long to extend that extra insurance, and funding for states and cities that had their budgets decimated by the pandemic.
Democrats want $1 trillion for cities and states but Republicans have put a $150 billion offer on the table.
Republicans also offered a ‘skinny’ deal that would allow legislation to be passed on two critical issues – the unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions – and leave the other issues to be negotiated in a later deal.
But Pelosi rejected that, saying the deal wasn’t skinny but ‘anorexic.’
‘It is so clear that we should do something, and we should do something big,’ she said.
Democrats have stood firm on passing a full package of relief.