Talks on the next coronavirus relief package are not going well. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday said the two sides are “very far apart,” and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico he didn’t see any way a deal could get done this week, leaving no hope of avoiding the formal expiration Friday of a $600 federal boost to unemployment benefits.
"Enhanced unemployment insurance provisions will expire," Meadows told reporters Wednesday afternoon after meeting with Democratic leaders.
Given the extensive differences that would need to be hashed out for a comprehensive deal, President Trump on Wednesday called for lawmakers to instead focus on addressing the expiration of the enhanced unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions, which expired this past weekend, saying that discussions on other parts of a relief package can come later.
“We ought to work on the evictions so that people don't get evicted,” Trump said. “You work on the payments for the people, and the rest of it we're so far apart we don't care. We really don't care.” A day earlier he dismissed the $1 trillion coronavirus proposal released by Senate Republicans this week as “sort of semi-irrelevant.”
Democrats have rejected taking a piecemeal approach, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did so again Wednesday. “A number of Republican senators signaled Wednesday they were open to some kind of short-term, stand-alone deal -- but also said there was no clarity on what that might actually entail,” The Washington Post reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues to insist that any package must include a five-year liability shield protecting businesses and hospitals from coronavirus-related lawsuits, a provision Democrats oppose.
‘Unable to mate’: Pelosi and Schumer, eschewing the football or baseball analogies that have become common in describing the status of bipartisan talks, instead turned to zoological comparisons. At a Tuesday meeting with administration negotiators, Pelosi compared the Democratic and Republican plans to a giraffe and a flamingo, Politico reports: “They’re both at a zoo. A dumb person may think they could mate for offspring. A smart person knows that’s impossible. That’s our bills. They’re unable to mate.”
With the two sides apparently making little progress, McConnell and Schumer traded barbs on the Senate floor Wednesday, with McConnell calling Democrats’ insistence on extending the $600 weekly unemployment payments “completely unhinged” and suggesting Pelosi was playing election politics.
“This absurd, nasty insinuation by the Republican leader doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Schumer said, according to the Post. “The fact that Leader McConnell would even consider the idea that a political party might deny support for the American people in order to help win an election says more about the Republican leader than anybody else.”
The bottom line: The parties are talking, but they’re not moving, so millions of Americans will suffer a shock to their incomes as their extra jobless benefits lapse.