Pelosi: COVID talks will resume when GOP offers $2T
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the high-stakes talks between the White House and Democrats on coronavirus relief will resume only when Republicans come to the table with at least $2 trillion.
“When they’re ready to do that, we’ll sit down,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.
The comments foreshadow a rocky road ahead as the parties haggle over a fifth round of emergency relief designed to address the health needs and economic devastation caused by the pandemic, which has hit the United States harder than any other country.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had huddled with the White House negotiators — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief of staff Mark Meadows — for a full two weeks when the talks broke down last Friday.
Quite aside from specific policy prescriptions, the sides have not yet agreed to the overall size of the next aid package.
Pelosi and House Democrats had passed a $3.4 trillion relief bill in May, while Senate Republicans responded late last month with a $1.1 trillion counterproposal.
The Democrats last week had offered to meet in the middle — somewhere in the $2 trillion range — but the Republicans refused the offer, ending the talks indefinitely.
Seeking a breakthrough, Mnuchin and Pelosi spoke by phone on Wednesday, but the conversation did nothing to break the stalemate. Indeed, Pelosi said she’d made the same $2 trillion offer, and Mnuchin had responded with the same rejection.
Mnuchin issued a statement afterward saying Pelosi’s account was “not an accurate reflection” of the conversation.
“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,” Mnuchin said, adding that the Democrats “have no interest in negotiating.”
Pelosi on Thursday wondered where the inaccuracy lay, noting that both sides were clear that the disagreement centered on the Democrats’ $2 trillion demand.
“We said, ‘$2 trillion and then we can sit down at the table.’ Then he said, ‘That’s not what she said. She said $2 trillion or we can’t sit down at the table,'” Pelosi said. “Didn’t you think that that was strange?”
Asked when she might speak with Mnuchin again, Pelosi amplified her numerical requirement.
“I don’t know. When they come in with $2 trillion,” she said. “But we’re not sitting down at the table to validate what [they] have proposed, because it does not meet the needs of the American people.”
At the press conference, Pelosi pointed to a chart highlighting some of the major differences between the parties’ proposals. The Democrats, for instance, are seeking roughly $60 billion in food stamps and other anti-hunger programs, versus the Republicans’ offer of $250,000.
For coronavirus testing, Democrats have proposed $75 billion — roughly five times the GOP offer. And a larger gap separates the sides when it comes to help for renters: Democrats want $100 billion; Republicans have offered zero.
“We are miles apart in our values,” Pelosi charged.
Her chart did not include several other provisions that have prevented an agreement, including the Democrats’ demand for hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding for state and local governments, a $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits and $25 billion to prop up the U.S. Postal Service ahead of November’s elections, when mail-in ballots are expected to flood the system.
President Trump has complicated the fight over remote voting, warning that mail-in ballots promote fraud while absentee ballots are safe, particularly in states governed by Republicans.
Pelosi was quick to note that there’s no difference between the two — “They’re the same thing,” she said — while accusing Trump of trying, preemptively, to delegitimize the results of an election he thinks he might lose.
“He knows that, on the legit, it would be hard for him to win,” she said. “So he wants to put [up] obstacles of participation.”
It’s unclear what force will intervene to break the partisan impasse. Members of both the House and Senate have returned to their districts, the next monthly jobs report — the first to reflect the expiration of the $600 subsidy — won’t be released until the first week of September and party conventions are poised to consume much of the nation’s attention over the next two weeks.
Those dynamics have stirred speculation that Congress will have little choice but to combine a fifth round of coronavirus aid with the next must-pass legislation coming down the pike: the funding of the federal government, which needs renewing before Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown.
Yet Democrats are warning that the health and economic troubles caused by the pandemic are too severe to wait that long.
To make that point, Pelosi noted that almost 4 million new coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. since the House passed its $3.4 trillion proposal, including more than 75,000 fatalities. She accused the Republicans of pushing a “meager, piece-meal” response that would only ensure that those numbers go up.
“We can’t wait until Sept. 30,” she said, “because people will die.”