Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone Wednesday but appeared to make no progress toward breaking the impasse on a fifth coronavirus relief package.
The call — initiated by Mnuchin, according to a source familiar with the conversation — is the first time they’ve spoken since talks collapsed last Friday.
But instead of indicating movement toward a detente on Wednesday, both sides underscored how entrenched the negotiations are and blamed each other for the stalemate.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a joint statement that said Mnuchin had made an “overture” to meet but also made clear that the White House wasn’t moving on either the price tag of the legislation or what should be in it.
“We have again made clear to the Administration that we are willing to resume negotiations once they start to take this process seriously. The lives and livelihoods of the American people as well as the life of our democracy are at stake,” Pelosi and Schumer added.
Mnuchin quickly fired back that the description offered by the Democratic leaders was “not an accurate reflection” of his conversation with Pelosi.
“She made clear that she was unwilling to meet to continue negotiations unless we agreed in advance to her proposal, costing at least $2 trillion. … The Democrats have no interest in negotiating,” he added.
The dueling statements come nearly a week after talks between Mnuchin, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and congressional Democrats derailed amid notable policy and political differences.
Democrats offered to reduce their $3.4 trillion price tag by $1 trillion if GOP negotiators agreed to increase their roughly $1 trillion package by the same amount, but the offer was rejected.
The two sides are also far apart on issues such as unemployment insurance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) red line of liability protections, and more money for state and local governments — a top priority for Democrats.
Democrats are asking for $915 billion in new funding for state and local governments, which have been hit hard as their tax base dries up. Republicans have offered $150 billion in new funding.
“As part of our compromised proposal to the Democrats, we’ve said, OK, we’ll create flexibility. You can’t use that money to bail out pensions, but we’ll let you use the historical money for lost revenues, and we’ll put another $150 billion on the table. And that’s an awful lot of money. That’s $300 billion to state and local,” Mnuchin told Fox Business on Wednesday.
It’s unclear what, if anything, could break the stalemate.
Most lawmakers have left Washington, D.C., and aren’t expected to return until September, after the August recess, absent an agreement.
The next jobs report also won’t be released until early next month, and the country’s national attention is set to shift for roughly two weeks to the Democratic and Republican conventions that get underway virtually starting Monday.
Mnuchin said the administration would be willing to resume negotiations if Democrats would be “reasonable,” but he stopped short of predicting whether the two sides would be able to strike a deal.
“I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise. If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal,” he said.
Pelosi, during an interview with MSNBC, added that Democrats are willing to restart the talks if the administration will meet them “in the middle.”
“Until they’re ready to do that, it’s no use sitting in a room and let them tell us that states should go bankrupt,” she said. “The fiscal soundness of our states is essential to the strength of our economy.”