Coronavirus relief negotiations continue to advance at a glacial pace as the presidential election looms in just 15 days and COVID-19 cases spike around the country.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. Calif) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the deal’s chief negotiators, spoke for an hour on Monday but their months-long near-daily discussions have so far failed to yield an agreement about how much should be spent on relief.
A deal needs to be reached in the coming days so the package has a chance to pass Congress before Americans head to the polls on Nov. 3.
On Monday afternoon, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the pair “continued to narrow their differences” and revealed the speaker had directed senior Democratic lawmakers to work with their Republican counterparts.
“The Speaker continues to hope that, by the end of the day Tuesday, we will have clarity on whether we will be able to pass a bill before the election,” Hammill wrote on Twitter.
Pelosi is under mounting political pressure to accept the various offers presented by President Trump’s White House after House Democrats’ enormous $3 trillion aid package was defeated in Congress five months ago.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer grilled Pelosi in a fiery interview last week where he pressed the 80-year-old speaker on why she wouldn’t accept a $1.8 trillion package offered by Mnuchin.
On Monday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said he was hopeful a deal could be reached in the next 48 hours but said Senate Republicans had been “very vocal” about lack of support for a $1.8 billion package.
“There are some in the Senate that would support it. Whether there’s enough votes to get to the 60-vote threshold, that’s up to Leader McConnell,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday he plans to have the Senate vote on a $300 billion “skinny” stimulus package and a Paycheck Protection Program package for struggling businesses.
“Republicans do not agree that nothing is better than something for working families,” McConnell said in a statement.
It’s unclear if the bills will pass the Senate after Democrats blocked a similar package last month which would have included funds for people left unemployed by the pandemic.
In a statement on Saturday, Pelosi griped about the Trump administration’s approach to testing, their refusal to expand child care provisions, and the fact that they hadn’t committed more funding for states and local governments.
But Meadows pushed back on this characterization and said Pelosi was being “rigid in her negotiation” claiming a deal could have been reached weeks ago.
“It’s her way or the highway. It’s all or nothing. The American people don’t understand that,” he said, adding that Trump had directed his deal-makers to “engage” with the speaker and he was “hopeful” consensus could be reached this week.
At stake is expanded unemployment insurance, the paycheck protection program, funding for broke state governments, and $1,200 stimulus checks.
The respiratory bug has killed 220,000 Americans, infected 8.19 million others, and shuttered large swaths of the US economy, leaving tens of millions of people out of work.