Congressional Democrats have offered to reduce a proposed coronavirus aid package by $1tn if Republicans would add $1tn to their counter-offer, an idea President Donald Trump’s negotiators rejected before fresh talks even started.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disclosed the offer as she and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer prepared to meet White House negotiators again starting around 1.30pm ET (1730 GMT).
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of the White House negotiators, rejected Pelosi’s proposal out of hand, telling reporters, “that’s a non-starter”.
After nearly two weeks of talks that have failed to make substantial progress, the Republican president has threatened to pull his negotiators out and instead issue executive orders to address the human and economic toll of a crisis that has killed more than 160,000 Americans and thrown tens of millions of people out of work.
It was unclear how much any president could do by executive order.
At a news conference, Schumer said the president could not order any new money spent – as that is the power of Congress – but could only defer costs until they were eventually paid.
Democrats favour a $3tn-plus economic aid programme, while leading Republicans have proposed about a third of that in their own plan.
“Yesterday I offered to them, we’ll take down a trillion if you add a trillion in,” Pelosi said. “They said absolutely not.”
She said that she would make the offer again at an afternoon negotiating session with Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“We have a moral responsibility to find common ground,” Pelosi said.
Schumer said the White House would have to compromise with Democrats, because they need Democratic votes to get anything passed by Congress.
“They can’t just say no,” he said.
Schumer placed some of the blame for the lack of progress on Meadows, formerly one of the most conservative Republican congressmen on Capitol Hill.
“His positions are quite hardened and non-compromising, more so than Mnuchin,” Schumer said. “Mr Meadows is from the Tea Party.
“You have 20 Republicans in the Senate greatly influenced by them, and they don’t want to spend the necessary dollars to help get America out of this mess.
“Ideology sort of blinds them.”
Pelosi said Democrats want the biggest possible number for reviving an expired federal payment to the unemployed that had been $600 a week.
Renewing that benefit has been a key Democratic demand.
The White House at one point suggested $400 a week in federal benefits for the unemployed, but Democrats rejected it and have refused to do a separate deal on that, saying they wanted a comprehensive package that also included money for state and local governments and other matters.
Several mayors issued a plea for help yesterday, saying that sharp fall-offs in tax revenues and greater costs for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies were making their financial situation increasingly dire.
“The pain in our cities is intense and is growing and the Senate and the White House and the Congress have got to stay at the table to get this relief package complete,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher.
More than 300 US mayors this week sent a letter to Trump requesting $250bn in direct federal aid to cities across the country.
Congress passed more than $3tn in relief legislation early in the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a boost is needed to help the US economy, but some of his fellow Republicans oppose doing anything more.
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