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 MeadowsGraham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan 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 MnuchinFormer Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan MORE, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill On The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid 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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' 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.