Pelosi Rips Republicans as Virus Talks Take a Bitter Turn

Pelosi Rips Republicans as Virus Talks Take a Bitter Turn

Printer-friendly version
Plus, Trump says he’s ready to act on his own on virus relief
Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pelosi Rips Republicans as Virus Talks Take Bitter Turn

Maybe this will turn out to be one of those "darkest before the dawn" moments, but as Trump administration officials and Democratic leaders working on the next coronavirus relief package entered what was expected to be a lengthy negotiating session Thursday afternoon, the prospects of a deal looked dim at best.

Democratic leaders and the Trump administration remain trillions of dollars apart in their proposals for the relief package, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters Wednesday, and the tone of the negotiators turned sharply more acrimonious on Thursday.

Asked during a morning appearance on CNBC why she couldn’t reach across the aisle to "give a huge chunk of money to the people who are disenfranchised, to the minorities who want so badly to stay in business and can't," Pelosi tore into Republicans: "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn, for what you just described. That's the problem," she said. "See the thing is, they don't believe in governance. And that requires some acts of governance to do that."

Pelosi had suggested Wednesday that there’s "light at the end of the tunnel" but the length of the tunnel remained to be seen, but she put a more ominous spin on that metaphor in a Thursday press briefing with reporters. "The light at the end of the tunnel may be the freight train of the virus coming at us if we do not contain it," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blamed Democrats for blocking a short-term extension last week of the federal unemployment benefits but told CNBC that he thinks a deal will happen. "There is a desire on the part of both the Democrats and the Republicans — at least most of the Republicans, not every single one — that we get to an outcome because the economy does need an additional boost until we get the vaccine," McConnell said. "Exactly when that deal comes together I couldn’t tell you, but I think it will at some point in the near future."

Pelosi takes a hard line:
The speaker hasn’t budged off her insistence that she’s not interested in a short-term deal and that enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 a week should be renewed. Pelosi "remains almost entirely unyielding in her demands," Politico says, and Democrats have been unified in their position. "Why dismantle a program that almost all economists say is working and put something new in its place that will take months to go into effect?" Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer asked Thursday.

Trump again threatens to use executive orders:
President Trump sure didn’t sound like he was expecting a deal to be reached. He said Thursday he was preparing to sign executive orders as soon as Friday aimed at addressing his priorities for coronavirus relief. "Upon departing the Oval Office for Ohio, I’ve notified my staff to continue working on an Executive Order with respect to Payroll Tax Cut, Eviction Protections, Unemployment Extensions, and Student Loan Repayment Options," he tweeted.

The threat of executive action was seen as the administration’s attempt to exert some leverage to get Democrats to move toward an agreement, and there are questions about whether the executive orders (aside from one on the eviction moratorium) would be legal.

But in a sign that Trump might really move ahead with the orders, The Washington Post reports that the administration asked federal agencies to identify all unspent money from the $2 trillion Cares Act passed in March and that the White House was trying to determine whether that money could be redirected toward temporary unemployment benefits or the eviction moratorium.

Pelosi on CNBC encouraged Trump to extend the eviction moratorium but added that legislative action to provide money for rental and housing assistance was still needed since a moratorium would be of limited use if people ultimately still can’t pay their bills. Others also remain concerned that executive orders would be too limited in scope to deliver the aid the economy needs.

What’s next:
The negotiators were meeting at 5 p.m. ET. But senators are headed home and Politico notes that many don’t expect to be back in the Capitol next week. The House, meanwhile, is out next week. "Both can be called back," Politico reports, "but when you send ’em home, it’s usually because action is far off."

A reminder of what’s at stake:
Enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of Americans expired last week, and a moratorium on evictions also ended last month. The Paycheck Protection Program of small-business loans is set to expire on Saturday. Meanwhile, first-time claims of unemployment benefits have topped 1 million for 20 straight weeks (see more below). Many economists now expect the economy to suffer as households pull back on spending.

"Talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and the two Democratic leaders have turned into a giant game of chicken even as millions of Americans face growing financial hardships and the U.S. economy continues to stumble along," Politico reported Wednesday evening.

Right now, it looks like there are no winners in this game.

Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Level Since March

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell to about 1.2 million on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending August 1, the lowest weekly tally since mid-March. An additional 656,000 people applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits for self-employed and gig workers, bringing the total of new jobless applications to roughly 1.8 million.

The data came in below analyst expectations of 1.4 million new state claims, offering some relief from the increases in filings over the last two weeks.

The numbers are still bad:
Even these improved numbers are alarmingly high by historical standards. New jobless claims topped 1 million for the 20th week in a row, with each week crushing the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 claims set in 1982. And the number of people receiving assistance is extraordinarily high, with more than 32 million getting some kind of unemployment aid.

"It is promising that the initial unemployment numbers have ticked down," AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab, told The Washington Post. "But we aren’t out of the woods yet. The claims are still much higher than the pre-covid era, so it’s still pointing to a lot of economic pain."

Continued improvement is not guaranteed:
Some economists worry that the recovery is running into headwinds, with a significant number of job losses becoming permanent, even as the data becomes harder to read as federal relief programs expire.

"Both initial and continuing claims are at extremely high levels, and indicate that many employers continued to lay off workers in July," PNC economist Bill Adams said in a note Thursday. "Further complicating the picture, the expiration of extended unemployment insurance benefits on July 31 may be clouding the signal from the claims data."

Trump Orders ‘Buy American’ for Essential Drugs

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday that directs the federal government to purchase "essential drugs" and medical supplies from American manufacturers.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the order reflected a desire to gain national control over essential medical goods, adding that the pandemic showed the United States was "dangerously overdependent" on other countries for drugs and medical supplies.

The order could produce a serious shakeup in the drug industry, according to STAT’s Nicholas Florko. "No one knows exactly how much of the American drug supply chain is produced abroad, but some experts insist up to 90% of critical generic drugs are made at least partially abroad," Florko said.

But there is still much that is unknown about how the order will play out. The White House is not defining the specific drugs that must be made in the U.S., leaving that for the Food and Drug Administration to determine later. And, as Politico’s David Lim wrote, the order "appears to allow for broad exemptions based on cost, availability and ‘public interest.’"

The drug industry and some business groups oppose the approach, warning earlier this year that "buy American" means higher prices for U.S. consumers. But the order includes some provisions that would benefit the pharmaceutical industry, including streamlining the drug approval process and an easing of environmental regulations that affect drug manufacturing.

NYT: Two Big Reasons the United States Has Failed to Control the Coronavirus

David Leonhardt of The New York Times set out to find out why the United States stands alone as "the only affluent nation to have suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months." Interviews with scientists and public health experts pointed to two main factors:

"First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries. …

"The second major theme is one that public health experts often find uncomfortable to discuss because many try to steer clear of partisan politics. But many agree that the poor results in the United States stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration.

"In no other high-income country — and in only a few countries, period — have political leaders departed from expert advice as frequently and significantly as the Trump administration."

Read "The Unique U.S. Failure to Control the Virus" at The New York Times.

Send your tips and feedback to Follow us on Twitter: @yuvalrosenberg, @mdrainey and @TheFiscalTimes. And please tell your friends they can sign up here for their own copy of this newsletter.

Views and Analysis