Democrats poke GOP over coronavirus relief: Where's your bill?

Democrats poke GOP over coronavirus relief: Where's your bill?
© Greg Nash

Top Democrats on Tuesday pressed GOP leaders to pick up the pace on coronavirus relief, needling the Republicans with the unsubtle reminder that the sides can't negotiate a deal without a GOP bill.

"They're all in disarray — you hear different Republicans say different things — and we can't negotiate on a vague concept. That's not how it's going to work," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' Schumer: Idea that 0 unemployment benefit keeps workers away from jobs 'belittles the American people' MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

"We need a specific bill," he added.

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Hours earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) laid out the contours of the Republicans' next coronavirus bill, vowing to introduce it formally later this week. He did not specify when. 

But divisions among Republicans in the Senate and the White House on issues such as a payroll tax cut — a provision favored by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE — have complicated the internal GOP debate. 

Democrats have seized on those divisions to highlight the Republicans' struggles. But they're also warning that the looming expiration of funding for emergency programs such as unemployment insurance means the window is closing to reach a deal before Americans start losing those benefits.

"Time is so important," said Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE (D-Calif.). "And the sooner we can see their bill, the sooner we can understand our differences more clearly." 

The comments came moments after Pelosi and Schumer huddled for roughly 75 minutes with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit Pelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table MORE in Pelosi's office in the Capitol.

The gathering marked the first formal talks between the two parties as they seek an agreement on the next multitrillion-dollar package providing emergency economic and health care funding in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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House Democrats in May passed a $3.4 trillion relief package, but Republicans leaders in the Senate refused to consider it, citing both the price tag and certain provisions the Republicans deemed unrelated to the coronavirus crisis. 

Leaving the Capitol, Mnuchin suggested the sides could move quickly to reach an agreement. 

"We're going to try to get something done by the end of next week," he said. "That’s the time frame because we want to get something done before the unemployment insurance expires." 

"This is a process," he added.

Yet the parties remain far apart on a host of issues, not least the question of how big the package should be. The Republicans' opening bid is expected to be in the $1 trillion range — a figure Pelosi immediately rejected as "about one-third" of the needed amount.

"We have an economy that cannot open up until we address the pandemic," she said.  

Schumer accused the Republicans of low-balling the price tag out of an ideological distaste for the notion that government is able to solve problems. 

"Their mantra is 'Let the private sector do everything.' But it's clear the private sector can't solve this problem," he said.

As the number of COVID-19 cases grows around the country, Democrats are hoping conditions on the ground leave Republicans little choice but to go bigger.

"The forces of what the people want and what the economy and our health care needs is going to push them in our direction," Schumer said.