COVID relief bill: Negotiations reach breaking point, Trump plans executive order

Mnuchin said he will recommend Trump take executive action this weekend.

Talks between the administration and Democratic leadership on a path forward for a COVID-19 relief bill collapsed Friday, with both parties leaving negotiations citing no measured progress toward an agreement and no plans for a future meeting.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have been in daily discussion with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over a possible relief package, but with no agreement in site, the parties appear to have now gone their separate ways.

“Perhaps you missed what I said,” Pelosi said when asked what would come next for negotiations. “I said come back when you’re ready to give a higher number.”

President Trump‘s advisers left Capitol Hill Thursday telling reporters that they will now advise him to go at it alone by taking executive action over the coming weekend.

“The Chief of Staff and I will recommend to the president, based upon our lack of activity today, to move forward with some executive orders,” Mnuchin said.

Trump laid out his plan for the executive order in a speech from Bedminster, New Jersey, Friday night. He accused Democrats of holding coronavirus stimulus negotiations “hostage,” and said the order would defer payroll taxes until to the end of year and be retroactive to July 1; enhance unemployment benefits until end of 2020, although he didn’t say what the total amount would be; defer student loans and forgive interest indefinitely; and extend eviction moratoriums.

Meadows told reporters earlier in the day that the executive orders would come this weekend.

Mnuchin said prior to Trump’s press conference that individuals receiving unemployment insurance will not receive a full $600 a week in unemployment benefits as was the case under the previous coronavirus relief package. On Friday, Mnuchin seemed to point to the Senate GOP bill that he helped negotiate which cuts the federal unemployment insurance benefit to $200 a week through roughly September and then those benefits would be set at 70% or a worker’s lost wages.

For two weeks now, the two parties have struggled to find common ground on their two proposals which came in at sizably different prices. The original Democratic proposal, which passed the House in May, was worth $3.4 trillion. The Republican proposal came in around $1 trillion.

Pelosi and Schumer said during a press conference Friday that they attempted to negotiate the price of the bill during talks on Thursday. They offered to lower their asking price to $2 trillion if Republicans would raise their price to meet them.

“That’s a non-starter,” Mnuchin said, when asked about the deal on Friday.

Democrats would have achieved a lower price for the bill by shortening the length of certain benefits, but not by cutting them from their proposals, a tactic that Meadows said was not palatable.

“Even with their trillion dollar Washington D.C., magical way of saying they are coming down a trillion they can’t come up with any significant cuts to their bill,” Meadows said.

Earlier this week, Mnuchin and Meadows set a deadline for an agreement to be reached by Friday. As hopes of an agreement waned, each side accused the other of being too rigid and unwilling to compromise.

Both administration officials expressed frustration about returning to Capitol Hill today only to be met with more of the same during talks.

“I’m extremely disappointed that we came up here today just to hear the same thing repeated over and over again which is the same thing we’ve heard repeated for the last two weeks,” Meadows said.

Throughout negotiations, Republicans have advocated for a slimmed-down bill that targets specific areas, whereas Democrats have argued that a robust bill addressing a wide spread of health and economic issues was necessary.

“We’re there representing the kitchen table needs of the American people,” Pelosi said. “They are there representing the board conference room table and that is a different perspective. And that’s why it takes long.”

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