WASHINGTON – Lawmakers hope to have the next COVID-19 economic stimulus deal finalized by the end of the week.
After several meetings totaling more than a dozen hours, the top Democratic and White House negotiators agreed on the deadline date.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday senators will “certainly be in next week,” delaying the start of the chamber’s August recess.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of leadership, argued that if there wasn’t a deal, members might as well go home.
“If there’s not a deal by Friday, there won’t be a deal,” Blunt said.
Bottom line: There is still a long way to go and an agreement to a timeline to reach an agreement, one that is already one week after the initial deadline, isn’t much on its face. But what’s happening behind the scenes is a signal things are actually starting to kick into gear.
What Was Put On The Table:
The Tuesday meeting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the top White House negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was by far the most productive of all the meetings up to this point, according to both sides.
Schumer said both sides made concessions and, most importantly, the talks had gone beyond identifying areas of disagreement or even topline points of overlap and have now moved to trading actual paper proposals between sides. It seems minor or just an obvious step in the process, but the trading of paper means things are getting real, finally.
That came in large part due to what the White House negotiators put on the table. To be clear, these proposals weren’t agreed to and won’t be accepted by Democrats (much to the frustration of the administration negotiators). But they represent tangible movement — the type of movement that can draw out real concessions and counters.
The White House Offers:
These were the baseline White House offers made, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter:
Federal unemployment enhancement: Extend the federal unemployment enhancement at a flat rate of $400-per-week, down from the now lapsed level of $600 per week.
Eviction moratorium: Extend the federal eviction moratorium until mid-December.
State and local aid: An additional $200 billion in state and local funds, up from the offer of zero in the initial Senate Republican proposal. (Republicans point to tens of billions in aid that remains unspent from the initial proposal and initially proposed adding flexibility to how that money could be spent instead of new funds.)
The White House offers were first reported by Politico’s Playbook.
Window Into The Hurdles:
The extension of the federal eviction moratorium is extremely important for both sides — and with good reason. The federal eviction moratorium that protects more than 12 million renters living in federally subsidized apartments or units with federally backed mortgages expired July 25. If it’s not extended, landlords can initiate eviction proceedings in 30 days.
But Democrats want more than just an extension — they want actual assistance for renters included in the proposal. So the White House put an extension of past agreed upon policy on the table, and Democrats countered with wanting more aid. That’s going to be a consistent tension in each piece of these talks.
To underscore the point: Pelosi, on PBS Newshour after the meeting last night, was asked if there was some middle ground on unemployment insurance in between the original GOP offer of $200 and the Democratic position of maintaining the $600.
“There’s no in between,” Pelosi said, sticking firmly to the $600 level. “There’s no in between.”
The White House perspective, from Meadows, to reporters after the meeting: “I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that have been made by the Democrat negotiators.”
The Democratic perspective, from Schumer, to reporters after the meeting: “We’re still slogging through step by step by step, and we’re making progress. It’s not easy, but we’re going to keep at it until we get the kind of bill the American people demand and need, which is a bold, strong bill.”
Trump has said he is considering executive action if there is no progress toward an agreement on unemployment insurance, the payroll tax and the eviction moratorium. Administration officials acknowledge this is a leverage play. Democrats can’t really see the leverage because nobody thinks the President has the authority to do what he is claiming he can do — and if he tries, it won’t be to the scale necessary to address the scope of the actual problems. Just keep that in mind when and if the issue of unilateral action comes up again.