Mnuchin, Meadows make rare weekend trip to Capitol as GOP prepares coronavirus package
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made a rare weekend trip to Capitol Hill as part of negotiations on a GOP coronavirus proposal.
The meeting, in an otherwise empty Capitol, comes as Republicans are preparing to unveil their coronavirus package on Monday, after having to punt amid lingering sticking points over key pieces of the legislation.
The trip to Capitol Hill by two the top administration officials to meet with Senate staff — no lawmakers were present — is unusual.
But Meadows and Mnuchin said they were working on the details of the unemployment insurance provision in the forthcoming GOP language, which has been one of the unresolved sticking points in talks between the White House and Senate Republicans.
“We’re very focused on the UI is running out. We want to make sure that we can extend the UI, but have the technical fix and not pay people more to stay home,” Mnuchin told reporters after the meeting.
As part of the March $2.2 trillion CARES Act, Congress and the administration provided an additional $600 per-week plus-up of unemployment benefits. That is set to start expiring on Saturday.
As part of the forthcoming GOP proposal, Mnuchin says they are going to offer a roughly 70 percent wage replacement of what a person was making before being laid off.
But state unemployment offices have warned that because of their archaic system it could take, in some places, months to switch to the new proposal.
Some GOP lawmakers have said that while states are transitioning there will need to be a flat amount for the unemployment benefit, though there is disagreement over what that would be.
But Mnuchin added that the administration believes “the states will be able to transition to this new system,” of being able to scale unemployment benefits to match 70 percent of previous wages.
The weekend talk comes after Mnuchin told reporters on Thursday that there was a “fundamental” agreement on the forthcoming GOP proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is in Kentucky this weekend, also said that they had an agreement in principle on the shape of the deal.
Once Republicans unveil their coronavirus package, they are expected to begin negotiations with Democratic leadership. Similar to the previous packages passed by Congress, Mnuchin said he expects he will be conducting the negotiations by shuttling between the offices of congressional leaders.
The House was expected to leave Washington at the end of next week until early September, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has told members to keep their travel plans flexible for the first week of August, an indication that the coronavirus talks might bleed into next month.
McConnell, speaking in Kentucky on Friday, said he hoped to get an agreement in a few weeks. The Senate is currently scheduled to leave Washington on August 7.
“Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks,” McConnell said.