VIRUS AID TALKS AT RISK OF COLLAPSE
WASHINGTON — Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money are teetering on the brink of collapse after a marathon meeting in the Capitol Thursday night generated a wave of recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators.
“There’s a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart” on, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who depicted a stalemate on aid to states and local governments and renewing supplemental unemployment benefits.
Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said they would return to the White House to brief President Donald Trump to consider next steps. Democratic negotiators pleaded for talks to continue.
Both sides said the future of the negotiations is uncertain. Trump is considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment insurance in the coming days.
A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people, and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.
Failure would also bring political consequences that may be difficult to predict, but among those most invested in reaching an agreement are Senate Republicans facing difficult reelection races this fall. Trump, whose drop in the polls has coincided with the continued spread of the virus, had been seen as keen to get a deal as well. But his top negotiators signaled they are ready to walk away.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would consider ways to curb the overall cost of the legislation, but cast the impasse as a deeper philosophical dispute between the two sides.
“We’re very far apart. It’s most unfortunate,” she said.
Both sides have adopted a hard line in the talks, though the Trump team is more open in disclosing a handful of its proposed compromises. Republicans were late to agree to the negotiations and have become frustrated by the inflexible tactics of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who have been exuding confidence in a political and legislative landscape that’s tilted in their favor.
Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their demand for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.
“We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (right) and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speak on Thursday.