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Democrats offer lower price tag for COVID-19 aid but stalemate persists

Democrats offer lower price tag for COVID-19 aid but stalemate persists
© Greg Nash

Democrats and the Trump administration made little to no progress Thursday during renewed negotiations over a COVID-19 relief package, as the two sides remain far apart on hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency aid for states, renters, the unemployed and the hungry.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals Senate investigation of insurrection falls short Ocasio-Cortez: 'Old way of politics' influences Manchin's thinking MORE (D-Calif.) said she offered White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBiden's no-drama White House chief Ex-Trump aide Meadows pushed DOJ to probe multiple election theories: report Trump working with Gingrich on policy agenda: report MORE a concession by proposing a $2.2 trillion price tag for the entire package, down from the Democrats' most recent demand of $2.4 trillion floated earlier this month.

Meadows, however, didn't bite, Pelosi said, leaving negotiators where they've been for more than a month: at an impasse.

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"We have said again and again that we're willing to come down and meet them in the middle — that would be $2.2 trillion — and when they're ready to do that, we'll be ready to discuss and negotiate the particulars," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol just after the call with Meadows.

"When they're ready to do that they'll let us know," she added. "I did not get that impression on that call [that they are]."

Meadows's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Thursday's 25-minute phone call marked the first time the negotiators have spoken since the emergency coronavirus talks broke down on Aug. 7, largely over stark disagreements over the amount of funding for unemployment benefits and help for state and local governments struggling to meet needs and balance budgets amid the pandemic.

In May, House Democrats had passed a massive, $3.4 trillion relief package, featuring funding for states, unemployment benefits, schools, food stamps, rental assistance and the Postal Service.

Late last month, Senate Republicans offered a $1.1 trillion counterproposal, focused largely on help for small businesses, the unemployed, schools and direct payments to individuals. Yet the Senate measure was opposed not only by Democrats, but also by a number of conservative Republicans wary of soaring deficit spending. GOP leaders never brought it to the floor for a vote.

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Since then, Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE — the pair leading the negotiations for the GOP — have pressed for an even smaller bill that might attract the support of those conservative critics.

Democrats, however, have largely stood their ground, arguing that the dual crises of public health and economy demand another massive infusion of federal spending to alleviate the devastation on working-class Americans.

Even as Pelosi was touting the new $2.2 trillion offer, she warned that the party isn't ready to accept anything much lower.

"We're willing to go to that place. But we can't go anywhere else because we have to meet the needs of the American people," she said. "We will not short-change them, we will not nickel and dime them."

Asked if there are plans for another conversation with the White House, Pelosi didn't hesitate.

"When they're ready for 2.2," she said. "There's no reason to have a conversation [before then]."