Lawmakers and White House officials continued negotiations over a second round of coronavirus stimulus checks and other provisions over the weekend. Some officials are sounding more optimistic, but it seems that little, if any progress has been made.
Negotiations on a second round of coronavirus stimulus checks are mostly set as Republicans and Democrats have basically agreed to send $1,200 payments to Americans with mostly the same terms for eligibility, although with a few slight changes from the payments sent in the CARES Act. However, negotiations on other provisions for the next stimulus package are holding up the second round of coronavirus stimulus checks.
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Despite the disagreement on other provisions, Mnuchin told reporters that Democrats and Republicans agree to send $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks to Americans. Republicans wanted to do the next stimulus package in pieces, presumably to get each piece passed as negotiations continue. However, Democrats refuse to do that, so they want a deal on all provisions before even one is passed.
Referring to the coronavirus stimulus check negotiations, Mnuchin told reporters that Trump also supports a second round of payments. He also said the payments could be sent more quickly than they were the first time. He said the coronavirus stimulus checks could start going out as early as one week after Trump signs the finalized stimulus package.
Unemployment remains the sticking point
Right now what's holding up the talks is the extra unemployment benefit. The CARES Act added a $600 weekly federal payment to unemployment, but that has since expired. Democrats want to extend the extra $600 a week, but Republicans don't want to keep paying people more to be out of work than what they were getting paid on the job.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows over the weekend. Democrats refuse to compromise on the extra payment, although Republicans could perhaps be persuaded to go above the $200 per week they have proposed.
Pelosi told ABC's This Week on Sunday that Trump administration officials are saying that jobless Americans don't need $600 a week because they are refusing to look for work. Mnuchin told the same news program that they are concerned about the cost of extending the extra $600 per week in payments.
That's why fiscal hawks are unlikely to agree to an extension of the extra $600 in weekly benefits. As a result, it seems that Congress is deadlocked over unemployment, which is arguably the one provision that needs an agreement the most right now.
Despite the agreement on coronavirus stimulus checks, the negotiations are simply not going well. Unemployment isn't the only thing both sides disagree on.
White House officials sounded more optimistic over the weekend, but a source told CNN that they are as far apart as they've ever been in the negotiations. The person said they had "no clue how we get this done at this point" and that there was "so much outstanding."
Negotiators on both sides left the more-than three-hour meeting on Saturday with positive words about the talks. Given that they are still nowhere close to a deal, it seems that the negotiations are a complete mess.
Sources told CNN that the reason the negotiations on Saturday were more productive was because both sides left with a fuller understanding of just how bad their disagreements are and provisions where they could more easily agree, including the coronavirus stimulus checks. The progress didn't actually have anything to do with being close to an agreement on anything.
Today Mnuchin and Meadows will meet again with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Church Schumer to continue the talks. The Senate leaves for its August recess at the end of the week. However, the House of Representatives left last week.
That means even if the Senate comes to an agreement against all odds this week, it's too late for any stimulus package to pass both houses of Congress until September. The House won't be back in session until Sept. 8, which is when the Senate will also return from its August recess.