Democrats hold firm in demands for coronavirus relief bill as impasse continues

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Washington — Democratic congressional leaders are holding firm on their priorities in negotiations with White House officials and Senate Republicans over the next coronavirus relief bill, continuing to insist a long-term extension of enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week to unemployed Americans that expired at the end of July.

However, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Thursday evening that President Trump is willing to take executive action to address the crisis if a deal is not reached with Democrats by Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with Mnuchin and Meadows for over three hours on Thursday without coming to an agreement.

Pelosi told reporters on Friday that Democrats had offered a compromise on coronavirus legislation.

“Yesterday I offered to them we’ll take down a trillion if you add a trillion in. They said absolutely not,” Pelosi said, adding that she would make the offer again when she and Schumer meet with Mnuchin and Meadows later this afternoon. This would bring the final proposal to north of $2 trillion. Democrats are seeking a deal similar to legislation passed by the House in May, which would cost approximately $3.4 trillion, and Republicans have proposed their own $1 trillion option.

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

In a letter to Democratic colleagues, 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 Friday that he pushed the White House last 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, who was previously a member of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus as a member of the House, saying his “positions are quite hardened and non-compromising, more so than Mnuchin.”

Meadows told reporters on Thursday evening that President Trump is “prepared to take executive action on his own” if a deal is not reached. Mnuchin had previously said that they aimed to come to an agreement by Friday.

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

“We had what I would call a consequential meeting. It was one where we could see the difference in values that we bring to the table. 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.

There appears to have been little progress in negotiations throughout the recent weeks. Pelosi said on Thursday morning that “we have to move more quickly because the light at the end of the tunnel may be the freight train of the virus coming at us if we do not act to contain it.”

“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 announced 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.

She has also shot down the idea that they could consider a short-term extension of the benefit if a deal could not be reached.

Senate Republicans on Thursday expressed skepticism that a deal between the two parties could be reached. Senator Lisa Murkowski said it “doesn’t look like” White House officials and Democrats would have successful negotiations, and Senator Mike Rounds simply said “nope” when asked by reporters if he thought they would reach a deal this week.

“I believe there will be a deal, yes, but I don’t know that I could characterize the probability of it being successful,” Senator Mitt Romney said, offering slightly more hope than his colleagues.

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