Both Republicans and Democrats agreed progress was made Saturday during deliberations over a new stimulus deal to combat the impacts of coronavirus, a bright spot in what was an otherwise fraught week of negotiations.
“We’re not close yet, but it was a productive discussion and now each side knows where they’re at,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
The group has spent days trying to reconcile priorities for what would be a fifth round of stimulus funding. Negotiations grew testy Friday when both sides blamed the other for the deadlock while a $600 weekly unemployment benefit came to an end without a solution in sight.
“I guess we would also characterize the discussions as the most productive we’ve had to date,” Mnuchin said. “We went through a long list of policy issues on our side and on their side, as we’ve suggested in the past, there’s clearly a subset of issues where we both agree on very much.”
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Mnuchin said there was an overlap in issues both parties agree to that should be prioritized in the next package.
“The four of us agree that education is timely,” Mnuchin said. “There are schools that want to open that will need money for social distancing and PPE (personal protective equipment).”
He also said that there was “bipartisan support” for small business loans.
But Meadows, who has been speaking with President Donald Trump throughout the talks, cautioned a deal isn’t near.
“I don’t want to suggest a deal is imminent because it is not,” Meadows said. “There are still substantial differences but we did make good progress.”
Pelosi remained steadfast in her desire to pass a larger bill and not take a piecemeal approach suggested by Republicans and the White House, such as a short-term extension of the unemployment benefit, saying Saturday, “We’re not doing short-term.”
“There’s clearly a desire on their part to do an entire package,” said Mnuchin, referring to Democrats’ demand to pass a larger long-term bill quickly. “We’ve made clear that we’re willing to deal with the short-term issues and pass something quickly and come back to the larger issues, so we’re at an impasse on that.”
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Pelosi and Schumer are set to continue talks with Mnuchin and Meadows on Monday.
Both sides’ tones Saturday were more measured than just a day earlier.
At a press conference Friday, Meadows slammed Democrats for rejecting a short-term deal to continue the bolstered unemployment benefit for one week.
“What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats up on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said. “The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”
In her own press conference Friday, Pelosi condemned Republicans and the Trump administration for taking a “piecemeal” approach to relief as COVID-19 cases continue to surge nationally.
“In this time of all of that, what are the Republicans proposing? Cutting the benefits to American working families (by) putting $200 on the floor yesterday,” she said. “Six-hundred dollars is essential in the lives of these families.”
Pelosi argued that a short-term deal to extend the unemployment benefit by one week would only be worthwhile if lawmakers had nearly completed a larger bill, noting the amount of time it would take for the measure to pass.
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Meadows and Mnuchin had negotiated with Pelosi and Schumer on Thursday as well. Meadows said that Democrats were offered four separate deals throughout the day but rejected all of them.
“We’re going in the wrong direction. They’re going in the wrong direction because of partisan politics. It is very disappointing,” he said.
House Democrats passed their version of the next stimulus measure in May. The $3 trillion package would have extended the $600 unemployment provision until at least January 2021. The proposal was not taken up by the Republican-majority Senate.
Senate Republicans released a $1 trillion counterproposal on Monday, which was criticized by some conservative lawmakers for being misguided and expensive. It was likewise denounced by Democrats for not providing enough aid for schools, essential workers, tenants facing eviction, homeowners facing foreclosure, or food stamp recipients.
“I’m going to speak in animal terms. Say you are at the zoo. You see a giraffe. You see a flamingo. These two bills aren’t mateable,” Pelosi said during Tuesday talks with Republicans, according to a source not authorized to speak publicly.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu, Courtney Subramanian, and Ledyard King