Pelosi, Meadows To Talk Virus Aid, But Outlook Dim For Deal

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were set to discuss a stalled COVID-19 aid package but the outlook for any swift resolution appeared bleak as President Donald Trump’s team and congressional Democrats have been unable to agree on a compromise.

Their expected call Thursday afternoon would be the first attempt to kick-start talks since negotiations fell apart earlier this month. The stalemate comes as jobless claims hit 1 million Thursday and households are struggling during the pandemic.

Previous unemployment assistance, eviction protections and small business relief are ending yet the virus toll is mounting with almost 180,000 deaths nationwide, more than any other country.

“We’re not going to budge,” Pelosi said the Capitol.

The California Democrat said she has been waiting for the White House to meet in the middle. Democrats have dropped their $3 trillion proposal to $2 trillion. Before talks collapsed, Democrats suggested Trump’s team could move their $1 trillion proposal toward $2 trillion. But no counter offer came.

“Our number is a defensible scientific institutional base justification for what the public needs,” Pelosi said. “They’re just going to have to come up with more money.”

Congress is on recess until September and it appears unlikely lawmakers will be recalled to Washington unless there is a deal ready for voting. The talks are nowhere near that level and in fact are broadening to include other needs including Postal Service funds before the November election. There’s also new disaster aid needs expected with the Gulf State hurricanes and California wildfires.

Any relief package could become rolled into talks over a must-pass package to keep the government funded after the Sept. 30 budget year deadline.

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been briefing Republican senators almost daily, but those familiar with the private conference calls say there has been little new information about any new deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., floated a “skinny” proposal last week, trying to move talks toward a more narrow band of priorities that most Democrats and Republicans agree on, including small business help and some type of a jobless benefits boost to replace the $600 weekly boost that expired in July.

There is also widespread support for at least $105 billion for education to help schools prepare for fall classes, and McConnell also suggested $10 billion for the Postal Service, which is less than the $25 billion mail rescue Pelosi and Democrats approved Saturday amid widespread postal disruptions.

One key sticking point involves sending federal dollars to cash-strapped state and local governments. Democrats initially sought $1 trillion to help cities and states weather the coronavirus crisis, but Trump, McConnell and Republicans refuse to provide what they call “bailouts” for states.

McConnell acknowledged Thursday there’s a “stalemate” over a new package.

During a visit to a hospital in Pikeville, Kentucky, McConnell said he remained hopeful for a deal, “We need another one, the country needs another one,” he said.

Yet McConnell faces his own difficulties because many, if not most GOP senators appear satisfied, for now, that there remains enough existing aid available and new money is not needed right now. The split in his ranks gives Pelosi an upper hand in talks because she has been able to bring most of her Democrats on board with her proposals.