WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Despite a push from President Trump for lawmakers to explore a coronavirus aid package that would include a second round of stimulus checks, members of Congress left Washington for the weekend no closer to an agreement.
Trump put pressure on negotiatiors for both sides, urging Republicans to “go for the much higher numbers” on a federal plan which many hoped would open the door on the possibility of a package being approved before November 3.
However, there are a number of hurdles before that would happen during a hotly-contested election season.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke Wednesday for the first time in weeks about restarting negotiations. According to the Washington Post, it was unclear how deep those conversations went – but the fact they spoke is a bit of a breakthrough.
On Tuesday, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled a $1.5 trillion bill that would provide, among other things, direct stimulus checks to Americans.
When asked about the $500 billion proposed for state aid as part of the “March to Common Ground” stimulus framework presented by the problem solvers group, Trump said he supported “something like that.”
“I like the larger amount,” Trump added. “Some of the Republicans disagree but I think I can convince them to go along with that, I like the larger number. I want to see people get money, it wasn’t their fault that this happened.”
Trump has previously supported a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans, which is included in the bill’s $316 billion budget for direct assistance.
Some Democrats are criticizing the the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus’ proposal for not doing enough.
No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the caucus had developed “useful ideas, important ideas” but said the proposal did not do enough to address the ongoing needs of helping the economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
But even if Democratic leadership isn’t backing the plan from the Problem Solvers Caucus, it appears they’re willing to make a deal.
“We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to ‘go for the much higher numbers’ in the next coronavirus relief package,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
The statement went on say they look forward to hearing that Republicans “will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation.”
“I think if the number gets too high, anything that got passed in the Senate would be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans, so it’s going to have to stay in sort of a realistic range,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune told the Washington Post.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill that included $1,200 stimulus checks back in March. However, Senate Republicans and the White House rejected the measure.
During negotiations in August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a $2.2 trillion marker and has since indicated she’s willing to negotiate down.
However, Senate GOP leaders haven’t budged from a $650 billion measure that Democrats scuttled last week via filibuster. An earlier $1 trillion Senate GOP plan never gained momentum.
On Tuesday, Pelosi said the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of relief. Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a morning conference call that “we have to stay here until we have a bill.”
At issue in negotiations for a potential fifth relief bill are a replacement for the $600-per-week COVID unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July, money to help schools open, assistance to state and local governments, and additional funding of a program that directly subsidizes business hit hardest by the pandemic.
While there certainly is some movement, insiders caution whether any of this really equals progress. In a period now marred by election-season political combat, the chief negotiators for each party have shown no real signs they’re truly ready to bend and make a compromise.
The stalemate is politically risky for all sides heading into the fall election, and both sides accused the other of acting primarily with political calculations in mind. Democrats said GOP senators need to “check a box” and vote on any kind of relief bill before exiting Washington to campaign while Republicans said Democrats were intent on denying Republicans a political win.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.