Relief Progress Slow, Urgency Grows 08/05 06:20
Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints that Democratic
negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus
relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest
concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints
that Democratic negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping
coronavirus relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least
modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.
Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting Tuesday with Trump
administration officials to declare more progress. The Trump team agreed with
that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions
from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.
"We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They
made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they
appreciated," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We're still
far away on a lot of the important issues but we're continuing to go back."
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday's session was "probably
the most productive meeting we've had to date." Treasury Secretary Steven
Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of
the week to permit a vote next week.
"I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the
administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that had been
made by the Democrat negotiators," Meadows said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a pointed reminder that she and
Schumer are "legislators with long experience" and a track record of working
complicated deals --- a rejoinder to critics complaining that they are being
too tough and that the talks are taking too long.
"We agree that we want to have an agreement," Pelosi said. "Let's engineer
back from there as to what we have to do to get that done."
Another glimmer of hope emerged as a key Senate Republican telegraphed that
the party may yield to Democrats on an increase in the food stamp benefit as
part of the huge rescue measure, which promises to far exceed a $1 trillion
target set by the GOP.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday that
"you can make an argument that we need some kind of an increase" in food stamps
and that he's raised the topic with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He added
that an agreement on that issue could lead to further overall progress on the
legislation, which remains stalled despite days of Capitol negotiations.
"They are taking a look at it and I think we can get a positive result,"
Roberts told The Associated Press. "If we can get a breakthrough on that, it
could lead to some other stuff."
The food stamp issue --- left out of earlier relief bills --- is a top
priority for Pelosi, among other powerful Democrats, who have passed a 15%
increase in the food stamp benefit as part of their $3.5 trillion coronavirus
The overall talks are grinding ahead slowly, though urgency is growing among
Senate Republicans, several of whom face tough election races and are eager to
deliver a bill before heading home to campaign this month.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday that the chamber should not go on
recess without passing the huge relief measure, and Sen. Lindsey Graham,
R-S.C., offered a jobless benefit proposal that's more generous than a pending
GOP alternative. Both are facing closer-than-hoped reelection bids in states
that should be easy holds for Republicans.
Multiple obstacles remain, including an impasse on extending the
$600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit aid to the renters facing eviction. The
benefit has helped sustain consumer demand over recent months as the
coronavirus has wrought havoc. Pelosi wants to extend it through January at a
$400 billion-plus cost, while Republicans are proposing an immediate cut to
$200 and then replacing the benefit with a cumbersome system that would attempt
to provide 70% of a worker's "replacement wage."
They are also pressing for funding for the Postal Service. Schumer and
Pelosi summoned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to the Capitol on Wednesday to
discuss the agency's worsening performance and need for emergency funding.
"We've seen the delay of mail, and we're very worried about that affect on
the election," Schumer said.
On the Senate floor, McConnell, R-Ky., continued to protest that Democrats
are taking too tough a line. But he signaled he's far more flexible now than he
was weeks ago.
"The American people in the end need help," McConnell told reporters. "And
wherever this thing settles between the president ... and the Democrats is
something I am prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain
parts of it."
Most members of the Democratic-controlled House have left Washington and
won't return until there is an agreement to vote on, but the GOP-held Senate is
trapped in the capital.
Areas of agreement already include another round of $1,200 direct payments
and changes to the Paycheck Protection Program to permit especially hard-hit
businesses to obtain another loan under generous forgiveness terms.
The House passed a $3.5 trillion measure in May, but Republicans controlling
the Senate have demanded a slower approach, saying it was necessary to take a
"pause" before passing additional legislation. Since they announced that
strategy, however, coronavirus caseloads have spiked and the economy has
absorbed an enormous blow.
The Senate GOP draft measure carries a $1.1 trillion price tag, according to
an estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Republicans have
not released any estimates of their own.