Coronavirus talks between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration ground to a halt Friday after the sides failed to bridge a gulf in how much they want to spend to combat a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows would recommend that President Donald Trump take executive action to offer coronavirus aid “based on our lack of activity today.” The president would move to unilaterally address enhanced unemployment benefits and a federal eviction moratorium — which both lapsed late last month — along with student loan assistance, according to Mnuchin.
“It’s going to take us a little bit of time to finalize these and process them,” the Treasury secretary said. Because Congress controls federal spending, it is unclear what power Trump has to extend those programs.
Negotiators emerged from a 90-meeting meeting in the Capitol on Friday appearing to have made minimal progress over more than a week-and-a-half of talks. As both sides point to a fundamental difference in opinion of how to address the crisis, it is unclear if or when they can come to a consensus on legislation that could pass both chambers of Congress.
Leaving Friday’s meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the huddle “disappointing.” He and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the White House again rejected their offer for Democrats to cut the asking price for their legislation by $1 trillion and for the Trump administration to increase its proposed spending by the same amount.
“I’ve told them come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters.
Mnuchin indicated he would not come to the table again unless Democrats changed their tune on pandemic relief. He said he and Meadows “will be back here any time to listen to new proposals.”
House Democrats passed a roughly $3 trillion relief package in May, and Republicans last week proposed a bill that costs about $1 trillion. Schumer has said Democrats would not accept legislation that puts less than $2 trillion into the pandemic response.
Pelosi has said that she could cut back spending by making some programs expire earlier than originally proposed.
Democrats and Republicans appear to have come closer to an accord on issues including direct payments of up to $1,200 to Americans and extending a moratorium on evictions from federally backed housing. They have failed to bridge a gulf on how to continue enhanced federal unemployment benefits, help schools reopen safely during the pandemic, and aid state and local governments facing budget shortfalls during the outbreak.