Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said after about three-and-a-half hours of negotiations on Capitol Hill Saturday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that while good progress has been made on the relief bill, the sides remain at an impasse.
“I think it was the most constructive meeting we’ve had,” Mnuchin told reporters, adding that, “there’s still a lot of open issues.” He said the sides agreed on a subset of issues, including on the need to extend enhanced unemployment insurance in some form and on helping the American labor market recover from the pandemic. Mnuchin also said there was “a lot of bipartisan support” for more relief for small businesses.
Prior talks yielded little progress, with Republicans balking at such Democrat demands as aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners. Republicans have said they’re looking at a package of the order of $1 trillion, while Democrats have pushed for a much bigger $3 trillion bill.
Mnuchin said there’s “clearly a desire” on the part of Pelosi and Schumer to do an entire package, while the Republicans and the White House are willing to deal with short-term issues and pass something quickly before reverting to consider a bigger package.
The Treasury Secretary said restoring the $600 supplemental jobless benefit, which lapsed on July 31, is critically important to President Donald Trump. Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 benefit, saying it should be reduced so as not to provide disincentives for people to get back to work, arguing that if people make more on unemployment than at work, it’s a form of labor market distortion that disproportionately impacts small businesses. Trump has signaled that, for now, he wants to keep the full $600 enhanced unemployment benefit.
Schumer characterized the negotiations as “the best discussions we’ve had so far,” but said there is still “a ways to go.” He called the social and economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis one of the greatest problems facing the nation and stressed the need for a major relief initiative.
“We need to meet those needs in a very very serious way, and just saying, ‘we’ll do halfway’ doesn’t work when people need homes and need jobs and need housing and need help,” he said.
Calling the discussions “productive,” Pelosi said Democrats strongly oppose any cuts to unemployment benefits and said the immense fallout from the pandemic requires extraordinary measures.
“Millions of people are food insecure in our country. Millions are on the verge of addiction. People need resources in order to meet the needs of their families. So it’s very important for us to come to this is not as a usual discussion because the urgency is so great,” Pelosi said.
“I would characterize this there’s still a lot of work to do,” Mnuchin said, adding that staff-level talks would continue through Sunday to follow up on specific discussion items and that he and Meadows would meet Pelosi and Schumer on Monday to try and hammer out a compromise and “accomplish something for the benefit of the American people.”
Meadows said, “it’s time to make a deal” and that he is hopeful that one will be arrived at in the next couple of days. Still, he insisted differences remain.
“We’re still a long ways apart and I don’t want to suggest that … that a deal is imminent, because it is not,” he said.
“There are still substantial differences but we did make good progress,” he added.