Negotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms

Negotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms
© Greg Nash

The White House and Congressional Democrats warn that they have not yet reached an agreement on key issues in a fifth coronavirus package in the latest signal that they remain far apart despite a looming self-imposed deadline. 

White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election White House chief of staff knocks FBI director over testimony on election fraud Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid MORE on Wednesday said negotiations remain far apart on a basic tenet of the fifth coronavirus package — the price tag — and need a "break through." 

"I can just tell you that there are no top-line numbers that have been agreed to. We continue to be, you know, trillions of dollars apart in terms of what Democrats and Republicans hopefully will ultimately compromise on," Meadows said. 

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Meadows's remarks come after another closed-door meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' MORE (D-N.Y.) as they try to haggle out a bill. 

Mnuchin added after the meeting that they need to see "some real compromise on some of the big issues."

"If we can reach a compromise on these big issues, I think everything else will fall into place. If we can't reach an agreement on these mitigations, then I don't see us coming to an overall deal," he said. "And then we'll have to look at the president taking actions under his executive authority."

The two sides entered the talks with vastly different price tags, with Senate Republicans offering a $1 trillion package and House Democrats passing a $3.4 trillion bill in May. 

And they faced a litany of policy differences including how to address the $600-per week federal unemployment plus-up, money for state and local governments with the GOP package only offering flexibility for the $150 billion already appropriated by Congress, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley warns Schumer to steer clear of Catholic-based criticisms of Barrett Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE's (R-Ky.) red line of liability protections. 

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Pelosi after the meeting highlighted that any deal would need to address funding for state and local governments, help schools reopen and provide direct assistance to individuals. 

"I feel optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but how long that tunnel is remains to be seen," she said. 

The four negotiators also met on Wednesday with the postmaster general, with Schumer describing it as a "heated discussion." Democrats want more money for the postal service in the fifth package over concerns that it will be swamped with absentee ballots in November due to the spread of the coronavirus. 

The foursome is expected to meet again late Thursday afternoon ahead of their self-imposed deadline to get an agreement in principle by Friday. If they are able to hit that target — something GOP senators are skeptical about — they could spend the weekend drafting the bill and set up votes for next week.

McConnell said during a Fox News interview Wednesday that he expected a majority of Republicans would support a deal struck by the White House and Pelosi, but indicated that he didn't yet think they were close to an agreement. 

"We are a long way apart, and we'll see," McConnell said.