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.

Meadows told reporters that they would brief the president and decide whether to continue talks with Democrats to try to reach a deal.

“If that doesn’t work, the president has instructed Secretary Mnuchin and myself to be willing to enter into a narrower deal that addresses some of the most pressing needs that are before us as a nation. And if those two things do not work than he’s prepared to take executive action on his own,” Meadows said.

Pelosi and Schumer contended after their meeting 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.

Democrats are seeking a deal similar to legislation passed by the House in May, which would cost approximately $3 trillion. Republicans have criticized the price tag as excessive, and questioned why provisions like election assistance for states were included.

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.”

Schumer also slammed Meadows and Mnuchin for appearing to set a Friday deadline for negotiations, saying “we’re not quitting, we are ready to work, we will keep working,” Schumer countered.

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.

Meadows said after meeting with Pelosi and Schumer Wednesday that they continue to be “trillions of dollars apart” in terms of their priorities.

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 said this thinking demonstrated “condescension to American working families.”

Pelosi scoffed at the Republican proposal introduced last week which would have provided an additional $200 per week in unemployment benefits.

“When they showed up last week it was already too late, and they came to the table with $200. It was already too late,” Pelosi said, arguing that Republicans should have come to the negotiating table earlier since the benefits expired at the end of July.

She also shot down the idea that they could consider a short-term extension of the benefit if a deal could not be reached, saying “we’re not having a short-term extension.”

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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