Coronavirus Talks: 'Light at the End of the Tunnel, but How Long That Tunnel Is Remains to Be Seen'

Coronavirus Talks: 'Light at the End of the Tunnel, but How Long That Tunnel Is Remains to Be Seen'

Flickr/C.M. Keiner

Wednesday’s talks on a coronavirus relief package produced progress, but no major breakthroughs.

The state of the talks: Entering Wednesday’s negotiations, the two sides were still far apart on a host of issues even as they had agreed to try to strike a deal by the end of the week. Appearing on MSNBC, Pelosi shied away from saying the parties could finalize an agreement in that timeframe. “I am confident that we will have an agreement, the timing of it I can't say. Because I don’t know. It just depends.”

Her tune hadn’t changed much after another afternoon negotiating session: “I feel optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but how long that tunnel is remains to be seen,” she told reporters.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, negotiating his first major deal, told Wednesday afternoon CNN that his side was making most of the concessions. He also indicated that there may not be a deal if one isn’t reached in principle by Friday, again raising the prospect of executive action by President Trump on enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction protections if negotiations don’t yield progress. “If Congress can’t get it done, the president of the United States will,” he told CNN.

Pelosi and Schumer said they would not walk away from the talks, even if the Friday deadline passes. Republican senators facing difficult reelection races may also want talks on a comprehensive deal to go on. The Associated Press reports:

“Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents.”

The AP adds that the views of those senators may matter more to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than opposition to a deal from GOP hardliners.

As the clock ticks away, Politico reported Wednesday morning that the parties must still overcome large differences on a host of issues, from unemployment insurance to an eviction moratorium to funding for the U.S. Postal Service, elections, education, child care, food assistance and more.

A $400 compromise on unemployment insurance? A renewal of some federal boost to unemployment insurance remains a key difference now that a $600 federal supplement to weekly jobless benefits expired at the end of July.

In Tuesday’s talks, the Trump administration offered a $400 weekly benefit to continue until December 15, according to Politico. Democrats have been pressing for a longer extension of the $600 payments.

McConnell, acknowledging the deep divides in his own party, said Tuesday that he could back a renewal of the $600 payments — if President Trump supports it. "Wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team that has to sign it into law and the Democrat not-insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House is something I am prepared to support,” McConnell told reporters, “even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”

The president on Wednesday indicated support for restarting federal payments, but he again expressed concern that the benefit might keep workers from returning to their jobs and he did not specify the amount of the payments he would want to see.

"We want to get funds to people so they can live, but we don't want to disincentivize people" from returning to work, Trump said in a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with “Fox & Friends.” (Trump did, however, say again that the pandemic “will go away like things go away.” He also falsely claimed that Covid-19 is spreading in a “relatively small portion” of the country and suggested that children are “virtually immune” to the virus.)

A recent Yale University study found no evidence that the $600 in enhanced unemployment insurance discouraged people from working, and a new analysis by Morning Consult similarly finds little to suggest that unemployment benefits distorted workers’ incentives, even as more than 60% of those receiving unemployment insurance in July reported that the value of their benefits was equal to or greater than what they made at their jobs, up from 46% in May. “Other factors such as the demand for labor and the safety and security of working conditions are the primary determinants of unemployment now,” Morning Consult economist John Leer writes in his analysis.

Aid to state and local governments: “We still are a distance apart in terms of state and local,” Pelosi told MSNBC. Democrats are reportedly seeking about $1 trillion in new aid and Pelosi insists it’s vital. “If we don’t do that we will be abandoning them with costs that they have incurred for fighting the virus, and secondly they’ll be firing people and that goes into the unemployment ranks, which doesn’t save money,” she said on MSNBC. Republicans initially proposed to give states more flexibility in how to spend money that was provided under the March coronavirus relief law, and they’ve resisted coming anywhere close to Pelosi’s numbers. The president on Wednesday again argued that Democrats want a “bailout” for states that have long been mismanaged.