White House and Democrats at an Impasse on Stimulus Talks

WASHINGTON — President Trump and top Democrats in Congress began the week unable to agree how to move forward with negotiations on another economic stimulus package after a weekend in which the president stretched the bounds of his executive powers and ordered a patchwork of coronavirus relief measures.

The disconnect boded poorly for a comprehensive deal being reached this week, with most lawmakers now scattered across the country, leaving the states, businesses and millions of unemployed Americans grappling with how to proceed with more limited government support.

As of now, lawmakers and administration officials do not have plans to meet on Monday.

The two sides are stuck on how big an infusion the economy needs. The Democratic-led House in May approved a sweeping $3.4 trillion measure, arguing that the toll of the pandemic warranted another massive infusion into the American economy even after the government rapidly deployed nearly $3 trillion in early spring. Republicans, particularly in the Senate, delayed drafting their own proposal, in part because of stark divisions over how much more money is needed. They continue to advocate for a narrow proposal.

On Monday, Mr. Trump, who has largely sidelined himself during talks on Capitol Hill, proclaimed that his gambit to obtain more leverage in the talks had been a success, claiming that Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California “want to make a deal.”

But top congressional Democrats said they had not reached out to the White House since their last meeting on Friday with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. The meeting ended without an agreement, and the two administration officials declared that they would recommend unilateral executive action.

“Fables from Donald Trump,” Mr. Schumer said on MSNBC, arguing that Republicans needed to return to the negotiating table and find a middle ground between the legislation the House approved in May and the Republican bill unveiled late last month. “That’s what he seems to specialize in. I didn’t call him. Speaker Pelosi didn’t call him.”

The measures Mr. Trump signed on Saturday were meant to revive unemployment benefits, address an eviction ban, provide relief for student borrowers and suspend collection of payroll taxes after two weeks of talks between congressional Democrats and administration officials failed to produce an agreement on a broader relief package.

The president’s unilateral actions have come under intense criticism from Democrats, who argued that Mr. Trump overstepped the limits of his executive authority, and even from at least one Republican, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who deemed the unilateral lawmaking “unconstitutional slop.” Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. Sasse on Monday, dismissing him as a “Republican in Name Only” who had “gone rogue, again.”

“This foolishness plays right into the hands of the Radical Left Dems!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Mr. Mnuchin declined to comment on the specifics of the logistics of the negotiations, but said that the White House remained ready to make a deal. He urged Democrats to consider a limited package focused on areas of agreement such as funding for schools.

“There’s a deal to do if the Democrats are reasonable and want to compromise,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “If their attitude is we’d rather give you nothing than agree on things, then we’re not going to get a deal.”

Democrats have repeatedly insisted that they would not accept anything less than a broad relief package because of the devastating toll of the pandemic, repeatedly likening the administration’s narrow offers to “Sophie’s Choice,” a novel and Oscar-winning film where a mother must choose which of her children to save from a Nazi gas chamber.

“I consider a short-term bill a missed opportunity to do everything in our power to stop this pandemic,” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview on Friday, ticking off a number of issues, including funding for the general election in November and the Postal Service, that she said she considered important priorities for Democrats given the pandemic.

The Treasury secretary said that demands from Democrats to provide $1 trillion in support to states remained a nonstarter, but he argued that the federal government would help states that say they cannot afford to provide additional enhanced jobless benefits to unemployed workers. The weekly $600 payments added to unemployment checks, which were part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, were paid entirely by the federal government. Those payments expired last month.

A measure the president signed on Saturday repurposed other federal funds, including from a pot of disaster relief aid, to create a $400-a-week bonus payment as part of unemployment aid. That payment, however, is contingent on states providing $100 per week and establishing an entirely new program — called a “lost wages assistance program” — to distribute the aid.

Mr. Mnuchin did signal that Republicans were willing to spend more than $1 trillion on a relief package, but dismissed the notion of just splitting the difference with the Democrats’ $3.4 trillion legislation. In recent days, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer have said they would reduce their offer by $1 trillion — provided that Republicans agree to double their own $1 trillion opening offer — and have urged administration officials to return to the negotiating table.

“We’re not stuck at the trillion dollars but we’re not going to go to unlimited amounts of money to do things that don’t make sense,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

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