Tuesday, September 22, 2020

White House, Democrats bicker over stimulus as time grows short

Aug 06. 2020
From right: Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary and Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, arrive for a meeting at the at the US Capitol in Washington on Aug. 5, 2020. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Cheriss May.
From right: Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary and Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, arrive for a meeting at the at the US Capitol in Washington on Aug. 5, 2020. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Cheriss May.
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By  Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Erik Wasson, Billy House, Laura Litvan · NATIONAL, CONGRESS, WHITEHOUSE 

The White House and congressional Democrats are locked in a standoff over the size and breadth of a new virus relief package, with their self-imposed Friday deadline for a deal looming.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are scheduled to meet again Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for another round of negotiations, with little sign they've narrowed most fundamental differences.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor accused the two Democrats of "stonewalling" the two administration officials in the talks. But Pelosi faulted McConnell for waiting until last week -- after earlier rescue measures expired -- to make a counter-offer to the $3.5 trillion stimulus plan that the House passed in May.

"The fact is, when they showed up last week, it was already too late" to prevent a lapse of extra unemployment insurance, Pelosi said Thursday at a news conference.

Staff members from each team were working on various proposals ahead of the negotiating session among the four principals scheduled for 5 p.m.

Neither side indicated they would walk away from negotiations if an agreement can't be reached by Friday. But Mnuchin and Meadows said that 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 Wednesday's meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. "If we can't reach an agreement on the major issues, it's going to be hard to complete a deal."

Meadows said the two sides are still "trillions of dollars apart" on a compromise but that the talks have been productive.

Meadows also 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.

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.

Pelosi said Thursday that she would support Trump extending the eviction moratorium for renters, but said additional funding must be approved by Congress. "I don't think they know what they're talking about" in looking to tap unspent stimulus money, she said.

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.

The talks take on added urgency as time passes. The November general election is 89 days away and economic data show signs that the economy is still hobbling along. The Labor Department reported that applications for unemployment benefits fell more than expected, to the lowest since the pandemic started. But with claims still exceeding a million on a weekly basis, the job market has a long road to fully recovering.

Meantime, McConnell is postponing the Senate's scheduled August break, which was to begin on Friday. He said senators can return home, but will be called back if there's a vote on a relief bill. The House is on break, but lawmakers there have been told they could be recalled to Washington on 24 hours' notice.


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