The White House and congressional Democrats are running up against a self-imposed Friday deadline to strike a deal on a virus relief package with little sign they’ve narrowed most fundamental differences.
Neither side indicated they would walk away from negotiations if an agreement can’t be reached. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said unless some compromise can be found soon, more negotiations may be fruitless.
“Our objective is to try to reach an understanding of the major issues by Friday,” Mnuchin told reporters after meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. “If we can’t reach an agreement on the major issues, it’s going to be hard to complete a deal.”
Meadows said the administration and Republicans have already given more ground than Democrats in talks. He said if a deal was still out of reach by the end of the week, President Donald Trump was prepared to use executive authority to provide forbearance on student loans, impose a moratorium on evictions and extend supplemental unemployment insurance.
“I’ve been working around the clock to look at the options that the president has at his disposal that’s within the confines of his legal authority,” he said.
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As part of that, the administration is asking agencies about money that hadn’t yet been spent from the $2 trillion stimulus passed in March that might be redirected, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mnuchin said in July there was at least $1 trillion in such funds.
After more than a week of negotiations with Mnuchin and Meadows, Schumer and Pelosi said they still have significant differences to bridge, including the enhanced unemployment benefit that was in the last stimulus bill but now has expired.
“I feel optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Pelosi told reporters. “But how long the tunnel is remains to be seen.”
With each day that passes, the negotiations take on added urgency. The November general election is 89 days away and economic data show signs that the economy is still hobbled by the pandemic. ADP Research Institute data on Wednesday showed that payroll gains at U.S. companies slowed sharply in July, suggesting the pickup in coronavirus cases is putting a brake on the job market.
Senators are scheduled to leave Washington Thursday for a long weekend, heading home to virus-rocked states where the economic pain is mounting.
Meadows said the two sides are still “trillions of dollars apart” on a compromise but that the talks have been productive.
“The time is now for us to come to some kind of agreement,” he said. “This is not a fine wine. It doesn’t improve with time.”
The White House has offered $400 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits through Dec. 14, which the Democrats have rejected since they’re insisting on $600 per week, according to people familiar with the details. Mnuchin and Meadows also put $200 billion in state and local aid — including $105 billion in education money — on the table, but that’s still far less than the $1 trillion Democrats were seeking. The White House also agreed on extending a moratorium on evictions through mid-December.
In response, Democrats have said they can accept $10 billion in aid for the U.S. Postal Service in one year instead of the $25 billion over three years that was in the legislation passed by the House in May, according to a person familiar with their offer.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has left the GOP side of the negotiations to the White House and said that he would support whatever compromise eventually emerges.
“The only thing that gets an outcome is the speaker and the president of the United States reaching an agreement,” the Kentucky Republican said on Fox News. “And once they do that, I believe the majority of my members will support it, but not every single one of them.”
— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Saleha Mohsin
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