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No sign of stimulus deal in sight as Pelosi says Dems, White House are ‘miles apart’

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 16, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

Democrats and the Trump administration are “miles apart” on the next round of coronavirus relief, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, as the impasse in Washington threatens to send millions into financial ruin.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have not met with Treasury Secretary Steven 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.

The speaker did not say Wednesday when negotiations may restart. Pelosi indicated she does not want to huddle with White House officials again until they agree to find a middle ground between the Democrats’ more than $3 trillion relief package and the GOP’s roughly $1 trillion proposal. 

“But until they’re ready to do that, it’s no use sitting in a room and letting them tell us states should go bankrupt,” the California Democrat told MSNBC, referencing a dispute over sending more aid to states and municipalities.

“It’s a chasm, because they do not share our values,” she added.

The White House declined to comment.

On Monday, Mnuchin told CNBC that the Trump administration is “prepared to put more money on the table.” He did not say 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 lawmakers out of Washington until they have 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 up 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. 

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. 

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.

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 in the in-person talks with Democrats, urged the sides to end the “stalemate” on Tuesday.

“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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