Washington — Democratic congressional leaders are holding firm on their priorities in negotiations with White House officials and Senate Republicans over the next coronavirus relief bill, refusing to budge on a long-term extension of enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week to unemployed Americans that expired at the end of July.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the ongoing negotiations in a press conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday. In recent weeks, Pelosi and Schumer have met almost daily with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“We have to move more quickly because the light at the end of the tunnel may be the freight train of the virus coming at us if we do not act to contain it,” Pelosi told reporters. She and Schumer argued that Republicans do not comprehend the gravity of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer said, referring to the White House offer for a short-term extension of the unemployment benefits. “We won’t let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding.”
Schumer also slammed Meadows and Mnuchin for appearing to set a Friday deadline for negotiations. Mnuchin told reporters Wednesday that “our objective is to try to reach an understanding of the major issues by Friday.”
“We’re not quitting, we are ready to work, we will keep working,” Schumer countered.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that the Senate would not adjourn for its August recess until a deal was reached. Senators “will have 24-hour notice before a vote, but the Senate will be convening on Monday, and I will be right here in Washington,” McConnell said. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced last week that the House would be canceling its August recess.
Meadows said after meeting with Pelosi and Schumer Wednesday that they continue to be “trillions of dollars apart” in terms of their priorities. Democrats are seeking to reach a deal similar to legislation passed by the House in May, which would cost approximately $3 trillion. Republicans have criticized the price tag as excessive, and questioned why provisions like election assistance for states were included.
“Our Republican counterparts refuse to acknowledge running a pandemic in the middle of an election is difficult,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday, saying that White House officials did not understand the “depth” and “breadth” of the crisis.
Schumer and Pelosi signaled again that they were unwilling to budge on the $600 per week figure. Some Republicans have argued that this would incentivize Americans to remain unemployed if they were making more on unemployment insurance than they were at their old jobs. Pelosi said this thinking demonstrated “condescension to American working families.”
Pelosi scoffed at the Republican proposal introduced last week which would have provided an additional $200 per week in unemployment benefits.
“When they showed up last week it was already too late, and they came to the table with $200. It was already too late,” Pelosi said, arguing that Republicans should have come to the negotiating table earlier since the benefits expired at the end of July.
She also shot down the idea that they could consider a short-term extension of the benefit if a deal could not be reached, saying “we’re not having a short-term extension.”
Schumer, Pelosi, Mnuchin and Meadows are expected to meet again on Thursday afternoon.