As recently as Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that he’s “extremely doubtful” the head negotiators will be able to broker a COVID-19 relief package if a deal isn’t hammered out by Friday.
Now, the view from Friday morning is bleak. A three-hour Thursday night session seems to have yielded few concessions.
“We’re very far apart,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said afterward. “It’s most unfortunate.”
“We’re still a considerable amount apart in terms of a compromise that could be signed into law,” Meadows said. “We’re willing to stay engaged, but I can tell you that the differences are still significant.”
Pelosi claimed that Meadows at one point pounded the table in a gesture reminiscent of his boss, though Meadows denied it.
Though it was initially unclear if Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would accept Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) offer to meet again, Politico reported that the four will gather Friday afternoon in Pelosi’s office. Members of both congressional chambers have left Washington, with senators on 24-hour standby to return if a deal is suddenly reached.
President Donald Trump, though having decamped to his vacation home in Bedminster, New Jersey, is threatening to make good on a flurry of proposed executive orders as soon as Friday evening.
Upon departing the Oval Office for Ohio, I’ve notified my staff to continue working on an Executive Order with respect to Payroll Tax Cut, Eviction Protections, Unemployment Extensions, and Student Loan Repayment Options.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2020
The impasse is the same as it’s been throughout the couple weeks of negotiating. Democrats, as Schumer put it, want a “huge response” to the crisis, an expansive and expensive relief package that covers unemployment, schools, state and local aid, the USPS and more. Republicans, who are struggling to motivate half of their caucus who don’t want to spend any federal money at all, would prefer a “skinny” solution to deal with certain parts of the ravaged economy.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion package called the HEROES Act in May that encapsulates their vision for relief, and have remained unified behind it. Republicans, who refused to negotiate on the issues until days before the unemployment insurance benefit expired, have put forward various proposals but lack the votes within their own caucus to pass counter-legislation.
In an attempt to win back the narrative upper hand, some Republican senators have been claiming that Democrats actually don’t want to compromise, and that they see a decimated economy as a political upside while Trump makes his case for reelection.
“As long as they calculate that they’re better off politically doing nothing, it’s going to be hard for us to move forward,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “And that’s the calculation they’ve made, it appears.”
“We might not get a deal,” added Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) Thursday. “The Democrats might not want a deal. Think about it.”
Meanwhile, the conditions predicating the relief have not let up. According to the Friday jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added only 1.8 million jobs in July, a dive from the 4.8 million added in June. Though the unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent, that figure still tops the 10 percent reached at the worst point of the Great Recession.
Pelosi and Schumer responded to the numbers in a Friday morning statement.
“We remain committed to continue negotiating and reaching a fair agreement with the administration, but we will not go along with the meager legislative proposals that fail to address the gravity of the health and economic situation our country faces,” they wrote. “We call upon the White House’s negotiators to join us once again at the negotiating table today to secure a bipartisan agreement to put children, families and workers first.”
On top of the grim employment numbers, other economic conditions could soon worsen. The Paycheck Protection Program, meant to staunch layoffs and help small businesses stay afloat, is set to expire Saturday at midnight. Since April, it has injected $523 billion into the economy. And then, in the not-too-distant future, forbearance on student loans, meant to provide borrowers with some relief during the pandemic, will expire on September 30.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified in many parts of the country. As of Friday, the U.S. has seen 4.89 million positive cases of coronavirus and lost 160,000 people to it.
“We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer said Thursday. “We won’t let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding.”
This story has been updated with news that the four negotiators will meet Friday afternoon.