House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows failed to crack a stalemate over coronavirus relief Thursday when they spoke at length for the first time in weeks.
After a 25-minute phone call between the pair, Pelosi issued a statement saying “this conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods.”
She said the sides stood at a “tragic impasse” after the Trump administration again did not meet her demand to roughly double the price of its aid proposal to $2.2 trillion.
“Democrats are willing to resume negotiations once Republicans start to take this process seriously. Lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy are at stake,” the California Democrat said in the statement.
A spokesman for Meadows did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the call.
Negotiations between Democrats, led by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the White House, led by Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, collapsed earlier this month amid disagreements on unemployment aid, state and local government relief, and school funding, among other issues. Congress has failed to pass a fifth package to try to combat health and economic crises created by the pandemic even after a $600 per week extra jobless benefit, a federal eviction moratorium and the chance to apply for a small business loan program expired.
As Pelosi pushes for a broader approach to stimulus, Republicans are crafting a more narrow bill that they could soon distribute in Congress, sources told CNBC. The plan, which would cost roughly $500 billion, would address unemployment insurance, a new authorization for small business loans, school funding, and Covid-19 testing, treatment and vaccines.
As Democrats control the House, the bill likely would not get through both chambers of Congress.
Throughout the talks, Democrats and the White House have cited broad differences in how much federal money they want to spend to contain the virus and lift a damaged economy. Democrats in May passed a more than $3 trillion relief bill.
Republicans then in late July released a counterproposal worth about $1 trillion. The sides have made little progress toward crafting a bill that could become law since the GOP unveiled its plan.
After talks broke down, Trump took a series of limited, potentially unconstitutional executive actions to address parts of the crisis. Among other things, they allowed states to offer enhanced unemployment benefits of at least $300 per week for several weeks.
In pushing for a sweeping approach to more coronavirus aid, Democrats have cited comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and others who have warned a lack of fiscal stimulus could jeopardize the U.S. economic recovery.
The House returned from its August recess over the weekend to pass a bill to inject money into the cash-crunched U.S. Postal Service. But Pelosi rejected calls from about half of her caucus to pass stand-alone legislation to reinstate the $600 per week unemployment benefit.
When all of Congress returns in September, it will not only have to consider coronavirus relief plans, but also funding measures to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month.
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