White House officials and Democrats fail to reach deal on COVID bill

Washington — Congressional Democrats and White House officials again failed to reach a deal over coronavirus relief legislation after meeting on Friday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will now recommend that President Trump take executive action to address the economic fallout from the crisis.

“At this point we’re going to recommend to the president that over the weekend we move forward with some executive actions,” Mnuchin said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she had proposed a compromise on coronavirus relief legislation to White House officials, offering to cut the bill by $1 trillion if Republicans added $1 trillion to their version, but said this offer had been rejected.

“Yesterday I offered to them we’ll take down a trillion if you add a trillion in. They said absolutely not,” Pelosi told reporters about negotiations with Mnuchin and Meadows. This would have brought the final proposal to above $2 trillion. Democrats had originally sought a deal similar to legislation passed by the House in May, that would cost approximately $3.4 trillion, and Republicans proposed their own $1 trillion option.

But Mnuchin said that Democrats had not specifically proposed $2 trillion. He also said that Pelosi and Schumer had not budged on their insistence for a long-term extension of enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week to unemployed Americans that expired at the end of July.

Mnuchin said that he and Meadows may recommend executive actions on unemployment benefits, and on addressing rental foreclosures and student loans.

Meadows called the meeting “extremely disappointing,” a sentiment that was echoed by Schumer. The minority leader also said that the latest meeting on Friday afternoon had been “disappointing” because the Democratic offer had again been rejected.

“It was a disappointing meeting. We reiterated in very strong terms our offer. We come down a trillion from our top number which was 3.4 [trillion]. They go up a trillion, from their top number which was 1 [trillion], and that way, we could begin to meet in the middle. Unfortunately, they rejected it,” Schumer said. “We’re hopeful that they will think about it and come back and tell us they’re willing to meet us halfway.”

Mnuchin and Meadows have been warning that President Trump would be willing to take executive action  if the parties failed to make a deal by Friday. Pelosi and Schumer met with Mnuchin and Meadows for over three hours on Thursday without coming to an agreement, and met again on Friday afternoon.

“We have a moral responsibility to find common ground, but where we can’t, for our children, we must stand firm,” Pelosi said. Mnuchin told reporters ahead of the meeting with Pelosi and Schumer Friday that the $2 trillion figure was a “nonstarter.”

In a letter to Democratic colleagues on Friday, Pelosi outlined the outstanding issues, including funding for schools, assisting Americans facing housing insecurity, and offering election assistance and support for the Postal Service ahead of the November election. Schumer told reporters that he pushed the White House Thursday night to include $3.6 billion for the states to hold elections, including vote-by-mail, but Meadows and Mnuchin refused.

“Why are they resisting?” Schumer asked. He also criticized Meadows, previously a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, saying his “positions are quite hardened and non-compromising, more so than Mnuchin.”

Pelosi and Schumer contended after their meeting on Thursday that Republicans do not understand the scope of the problem.

“We have always said that the Republicans and the president do not understand the gravity of the situation, and every time that we have met, it has been reinforced,” Pelosi said Thursday.

“Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer added, referring to the White House offer for a short-term extension of the unemployment benefits. “We won’t let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the Senate would not adjourn for its August recess until a deal was reached. Senators “will have 24-hour notice before a vote, but the Senate will be convening on Monday, and I will be right here in Washington,” McConnell said. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced last week that the House would be canceling its August recess.

Some Republicans have argued that the $600 per week benefit would incentivize Americans to remain unemployed if they were making more on unemployment insurance than they were at their old jobs. Pelosi has repeatedly scoffed at the Republican proposal introduced last week which would have provided an additional $200 per week in unemployment benefits.

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