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No sign of a stimulus deal in sight as Mnuchin, Pelosi phone call yields no progress

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, left, listens as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks to members of the media following a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The prospects of another round of coronavirus relief appeared even more grim Wednesday after a call between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin moved them no closer to cracking a stalemate.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have not met with Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to hash out a pandemic aid package since Friday. Talks fell apart even as the virus spreads around the country and Americans struggle to find work after two financial lifelines lapsed last month.

Mnuchin reached out to Pelosi by phone on Wednesday, a source familiar with the call said. In a joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer signaled they would not yet restart discussions after the Treasury secretary again rejected their offer to find a middle ground between the Democrats’ more than $3 trillion relief package and the GOP’s roughly $1 trillion proposal.

“We have again made clear to the Administration that we are willing to resume negotiations once they start to take this process seriously,” they added. 

Mnuchin later said Pelosi’s comments were “not an accurate reflection of our conversation.” In his own statement, he said she “made clear that she was unwilling to meet to continue negotiations unless we agreed in advance to her proposal, costing at least $2 trillion.”

“The Democrats have no interest in negotiating,” Mnuchin said. 

During an earlier MSNBC interview in which she said the sides are “miles apart,” Pelosi described the gulf between Democrats and Republicans as “a chasm, because they do not share our values.” 

The Democrats said Mnuchin declined to add more money to the White House offer just two days after he told CNBC that the Trump administration is “prepared to put more money on the table.” He did not say Monday exactly how much more the White House is willing to offer.  

Congress has not passed aid funding in months even as the outbreak ravages the U.S. health-care system and economy. With talks halted and the House out of Washington until it has legislation to consider, it could take weeks before another rescue bill passes. 

The debacle on Capitol Hill has left millions of people in dire financial straits. A $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit expired at the end of July. The U.S. unemployment rate still stands above 10%. 

Markets, however, have continued to rise despite the gridlock and the potential for further economic strife. The three major U.S. stock averages were at least 0.9% higher on Wednesday afternoon.

A moratorium on evictions from federally backed housing also lapsed in late July. Meanwhile, the window to apply for new Paycheck Protection Program small business loans closed over the weekend. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters that GOP senators spoke to Mnuchin and Meadows on a daily call and heard there was “not much new movement,” according to NBC News. He suggested it could even take until Sept. 30, the deadline to fund the government, to pass more pandemic relief. 

“I hope not,” Blunt responded when asked if September was now a realistic timeline. 

On Wednesday, Pelosi also told reporters she hoped coronavirus relief would not get delayed until September. 

“People will die,” she said at the Capitol. 

Aid for state and local governments and payments to jobless Americans are two of the most intractable issues at stake in the discussions. The sides are also far apart on money for food aid, rental assistance and schools, Pelosi said Wednesday. 

In a subsequent letter to House Democrats, Pelosi outlined major differences between the Democratic bill and the initial Senate GOP legislation unveiled last month. She said the House plan included $60 billion for food assistance, versus $250,000 in the GOP proposal. 

Pelosi added that the Democratic plan had $100 billion for rental and mortgage assistance, while the Republican version did not have any funds for housing aid. Democrats have now increased their desired school funding to more than $200 billion, up from about $100 billion in May. Republicans put $105 billion for schools in their legislation, with much of the money tied to schools physically reopening. 

Complicating matters, multiple Senate Republicans have indicated they oppose even $1 trillion more in spending. 

With talks stalled, Trump took a series of questionably legal executive orders over the weekend to try to offer some relief to Americans.

His moves would extend extra federal jobless benefits at a level of at least $300 per week, encourage his administration to protect people from eviction, sustain existing relief for federal student loan borrowers and create a temporary holiday from the employee portion of the payroll tax. 

It is unclear when the unemployment order will be implemented and when states would start paying out benefits. But it could take weeks for recipients to get money. 

Trump’s orders could face legal challenges, as Congress controls federal spending. State governors, many of whom have sounded the alarm about budget crunches during the pandemic, have also worried about their ability to implement the policies. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has not joined the in-person talks with Democrats, on Tuesday urged the sides to end the “stalemate.”

“I think it’s time for everybody to get back to the table, and let’s get a deal done,” the Kentucky Republican said. 

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