White House and congressional negotiators have met for more than 12 hours over the last few days, trying to close the gap between the House Democratic-passed $3 trillion pandemic stimulus bill and the Senate’s more modest $1 trillion offer. They have set a deadline for the end of this week to reach a deal — a deadline no one thinks they can reach.
The Senate summer recess is supposed to begin next Monday but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the negotiations will “certainly be in next week,” which will delay the senators’ holiday.
But according to CNN, there has been some progress.
The Tuesday meeting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the top White House negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was by far the most productive of all the meetings up to this point, according to both sides.
Schumer said both sides made concessions and, most importantly, the talks had gone beyond identifying areas of disagreement or even topline points of overlap and have now moved to trading actual paper proposals between sides. It seems minor or just an obvious step in the process, but the trading of paper means things are getting real, finally.
It’s amazing how a deadline seems to concentrate the minds of politicians. All that’s happened previously has been partisan posturing and bitter recriminations about whose fault the impasse is. Now comes the horse-trading.
The White House proposal includes an eviction moratorium through December, but for Democrats, that’s not enough. They want cash payments to renters and other changes unrelated to the pandemic, like the construction of more public housing. And the two sides are far apart on aid to state and local governments. Republicans want to add $200 billion while pointing out that there are unspent funds from the first stimulus bill. They may sweeten the offer by changing rules on what that money from the first stimulus bill can be spent on.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is trying to convince Republicans that he’s not caving in to the Democrats.
“I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that have been made by the Democrat negotiators.”
The Democratic perspective, from Schumer, to reporters after the meeting: “We’re still slogging through step by step by step, and we’re making progress. It’s not easy, but we’re going to keep at it until we get the kind of bill the American people demand and need, which is a bold, strong bill.”
Whenever a Democrat uses the word “bold” to describe legislation, grab your wallet.
Meanwhile, if no deal is reached on Friday, Trump will follow through and issue executive orders.
“By Friday if we haven’t made significant progress and we’re just too far apart, the president is prepared to take an executive action on those two items,” Meadows said in a CNN interview. “The good news for your viewers is if Congress can’t get it done, the president of the United States will.”
Trump repeated the threat — but not the specific date — at a White House press briefing on Wednesday night. The president said he was also considering reducing payroll taxes by executive order.
“The Democrats are primarily interested in a $1 trillion bailout of the poorly run states,” Trump said. “And we can’t go along with the bailout money. We’re not going to go along with it, especially since it’s not COVID related.”
Democrats may use the president’s use of executive orders as an excuse to blow up the negotiations. It’s ironic since it’s the Democrats who are clearly playing the obstructionist role in this drama. Their insistence on giving $1 trillion to states is outrageous given what many of those Democratic governors plan to use the money for — issues that are totally unrelated to the virus pandemic like pensions and hiring more bureaucrats. Responsible legislators cannot allow it, which is why these talks may be destined to fail.