WASHINGTON – A bipartisan deal for a new coronavirus stimulus package appeared hopelessly out of reach on Thursday, with congressional Democrats blaming Republicans, Republicans blaming Democrats and President Donald Trump suggesting the talks are doomed.
The only thing everyone seemed to agree on is that the discussions are at an impasse.
“I want you to see how vast our differences are,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference Thursday. She pointed to a large blue poster detailing the wide gap between what Republicans and Democrats want to pay for various priorities.
“It’s no wonder we have a vast difference because this administration, other Republicans in Congress have never understood the gravity of this situation,” Pelosi said.
While Pelosi was speaking, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., went to the floor on the other side of the Capitol and condemned Democrats for sticking with a “completely unrealistic, far-left proposal” and holding the negotiations “hostage” over “non-COVID-related ideological items.”
“The speaker and the leader have not conceded anything,” McConnell said. “They haven’t budged on their absurd demands. Their partisan games continue. And so the nation’s pain continues, too.”
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“It’s no wonder we have a vast difference because this administration, other Republicans in Congress have never understood the gravity of this situation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
The dueling remarks illustrate the gulf between both parties over desperately needed money to help workers, families, businesses and schools weather the coronavirus pandemic. After weeks of talks, the negotiations have only seemed to worsen despite the expiration of a number of vital programs.
The halted talks have left the country largely in a state of limbo.
A small-business loan program that more than 5 million businesses have used to keep afloat during the pandemic has ceased operation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to furlough about 13,400 of its 20,000 employees – roughly two-thirds of its workforce – because of budget constraints amid the pandemic. And a $600 boost in weekly unemployment benefits expired last month, leaving many families desperate for financial help.
A survey by the Census Bureau in July found 24 million Americans said they had no or little confidence in their ability to pay their rent in August. More than a quarter, or 26.5%, of Americans missed their rent or mortgage payment for July.
Hours after McConnell’s remarks, he adjourned the Senate until September – further evidence that any deal is unlikely to be worked out in the coming days. Democrats and Republicans are hosting their national conventions over the next two week
At the White House, Trump suggested Wednesday that a deal isn’t going to happen and pointed the finger at Democrats for demanding $3.5 billion for mail-in voting, which he argued would perpetuate voter fraud, and for pushing for an additional $25 billion for the postal service.
“Those aren’t going to happen,” he said, adding that Democrats “don’t even want to talk about it because we can’t give them the kind of ridiculous things that they want.”
Pelosi, who has led weeks of negotiations on behalf of Democrats with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday that she wasn’t sure when talks would continue with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who have led discussions on behalf of White House and Republicans.
Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke by phone Wednesday, with Mnuchin offering to resume in-person meetings after they were halted earlier this month. That conversation only seemed to leave both sides digging in their heels further,
Both sides offered statements indicating that the other was unwilling to budge on the overall price tag for the package.
Democrats originally wanted a more than $3 trillion bill and have since offered to go down to $2 trillion. Republicans offered a proposal costing $1 trillion and have not wanted to go far above that amount.
The stark differences in the two initial proposals mean it’s “really hard to find issues on which the two sides agree,” said James Curry, a professor at the University of Utah and an expert on parties and leaders in Congress.
The Democrats’ proposal, the roughly $3.4 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May, would provide a second round of direct payments to millions of Americans, nearly $1 trillion to revenue-strapped states and local governments and billions for housing and food assistance.
The Republican-controlled Senate introduced its counterproposal, the HEALS Act, at the end of July. The $1.1 trillion package includes direct payments but no federal aid for housing, food or state and local governments. It has yet to pass the chamber.
The major points of contention that have led to the deadlock have revolved around a host of issues, most notably the amount that should be offered in enhanced unemployment benefits, aid for state and local governments and money for the election and U.S. Post Office.
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Pelosi “made clear that she was unwilling to meet to continue negotiations unless we agreed in advance to her proposal, costing at least $2 trillion,” Mnuchin said after the Wednesday call. “The Democrats have no interest in negotiating.”
Democrats, instead, argue it is the administration that is not willing to negotiate and have repeatedly said Republicans do not understand the gravity of the virus and the needs across the country.
“Democrats have compromised,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement after the call on Wednesday. “Repeatedly, we have made clear to the administration that we are willing to come down $1 trillion if they will come up $1 trillion. However, it is clear that the administration still does not grasp the magnitude of the problems that American families are facing.”
With the talks in limbo, Trump signed four executive order last week in hopes of filling the voids left by several programs expiring, including enhanced unemployment insurance and a moratorium that prevented renters from being evicted.
But questions remain over the orders, and critics say they may take too much time to implement, could be vulnerable to legal challenges and may not yield the results promised.
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Trump’s outlook on the next package has appeared more grim. In the days after signing his orders, he claimed Democrats were more eager to reach a deal than they had been.
But on Wednesday, Trump blamed the stalled negotiations on the Democrats’ demand for “radical-left agenda items that nobody in their right mind would approve.”
“The Democrats have abandoned the American people over the simple subject of politics,” he said at a White House news conference. “Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are holding the American people hostage over money for their radical left-wing agenda that the country doesn’t want and won’t accept.”
Other White House officials have similarly echoed an equally grim outlook for the future of another stimulus bill.
Larry Kudlow, one of Trump’s top economic advisers, told reporters Thursday that the talks are at a “stalemate” because the administration won’t agree to the Democrats’ commitment for a $2 trillion package.
“There are too many asks on their side that don’t fit,” he said. “They don’t even have anything to do with COVID.”
Kudlow said the administration would like to see additional funding to reopen schools and extend the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to small businesses.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the administration is willing to move forward with legislation that provides money for schools, child care, food, vaccines, hospitals and other GOP priorities.
“What we’re not willing to do is rubber-stamp a behemoth $3.4 trillion deal that the Democrats put forward that was fundamentally unserious,” she said.
Curry said one dynamic that could break the logjam would be a rebellion among vulnerable rank-and-file members in both parties. Members might “get nervous about having to campaign and being asked questions” about congressional inaction and start to pressure party leaders about compromising, he said.
Some vulnerable House Democrats already are pushing back by publicly slamming both sides’ leaders.
Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, who’s facing a tough reelection fight, criticized both McConnell and Pelosi for a “failure of leadership” and for playing “theatrics and political games” amid a national crisis.
Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., also facing a competitive reelection campaign, told CNN the lack of compromise was a “middle finger to the American people.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus stimulus: Talks stall as Trump, Pelosi play blame game