WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows resumed talks this week over a stalled COVID-19 aid package that many hope will include a second stimulus check. However, 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.
Pelosi said she told White House negotiatiors the Democrats would be willing to meet halfway — at $2.2 trillion — a slight reduction from her last proposal before talks collapsed earlier this month. The White House initially offered a $1 trillion deal.
“We have said again and again that we’re willing to meet them in the middle — $2.2 trillion. When they’re willing to do that, we’ll be willing to discuss the particulars,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.
When the two sides couldn’t agree to terms earlier this month on a wide-ranging package expected to include $1,200 stimulus checks, Trump took actions into his own hands — issuing four executive orders designed to give temporary reprieve, offering $300 in jobless benefits and some other aid.
Those executive orders did not include many things Democrats were pushing for including money for cash-strapped states, housing and jobless assistance, to help schools reopen and to conduct more widespread virus testing.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged this week that talks are in a “stalemate.” However, he remained hopeful for a deal.
“We need another one, the country needs another one,” he said during a visit to a hospital in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Congress is on recess until after Labor Day and it appears unlikely lawmakers will be recalled to Washington unless there is a deal ready for voting. Talks are nowhere near resolution and in fact broadening to include Postal Service funds before the November election. Also, a need for new disaster aid is expected with the Gulf state hurricanes and California wildfires.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters last weekend the ball is in the court of Democratic leadership when it comes to passing a package.
“I even think that we can come up with an agreement on stimulus checks to Americans and enhanced unemployment,” Meadows said. “Those issues are not as divisive as we might think.”
“Let’s at least pass what we can all agree to,” Meadows noted.
The idea of a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks has bipartisan support, with Trump even saying the amount could go higher.
“I’d like to see it be very high because I love the people. I want the people to get it, you know, the economy is going to come back,” Trump said during a July visit to West Texas. “We saved millions of lives, but now we’re bringing (the economy) back … we gotta take care of the people in the meantime.”
Last weekend, House lawmakers appeared hopeful negotiators could agree to terms that included an additional check. Naturally, each side pointed at their political adversaries as the cause of the issue.
“My job is to keep fighting to make sure that the next package of COVID relief comes to happen,” said Rep. Lou Correa, a Democrat serving the area around Anaheim, California.
“It’s been frustrating for me to watch this unfold as it has,” said Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina. “I would encourage everyone to remain at the negotiating table, (and) hammer out a deal recognizing that not everyone is going to get everything they want. Do not let perfect be the enemy of good.”
While some Republican lawmakers want to wait and see how money set aside in the previous aid package is utilized, others agree it’s time to reexamine the idea of additional relief.
“I believe it’s important to look at things we can do to stimulate the economy with things like stimulus checks, but also making sure that we are not continuing to add trillions of dollars of debt that (will) have to be paid by our children and grandchildren,” said Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi.
The Republican, who won his seat in 2018 as a Trump supporter, noted he’d only be interested in supporting a scaled-down version of an aid package.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.