White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday praised the bipartisan coronavirus relief proposal floated in the House as a potential foundation for negotiations to resume.
He said he found their proposal, which would cost up to about $2 trillion, “very, very meaningful” since it was a serious bipartisan effort to cross deeply entrenched partisan positions.
“They don’t speak for this speaker. I think she’s been very clear about that in the last 12 hours. But if it provides a foundation where there’s really a desire to do a deal, we’re encouraged by that,” Mr. Meadows told reporters Wednesday at the White House.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with Democrats on Capitol Hill, and not just the Problem Solvers caucus but a number of others. And I think there’s a growing sense that there’s still some real needs that need to be addressed. And I’ve tried to express the willingness on behalf of the White House to openly address them,” he said of the bipartisan group of lawmakers.
House Democrats promptly shot down the proposal Tuesday, saying it was insufficient.
The proposal reined in the time frame for aid and relief programs to last up to the inauguration.
It included about $500 billion for state and local government, $145 billion for schools and child care providers, $240 billion for small business loans, and $25 billion for testing and contact tracing.
Liability protections — one of Republicans’ top priorities — are included for employers following OSHA worker protection guidelines. But they’re balanced out with Democratic asks — $400 million for election resources and about $500 billion in new funds for state and local governments.
The $2 trillion offer isn’t that far off from the $2.4 trillion Democrats were requesting in August, but White House negotiators resisted that.
Mr. Meadows said there were parts of the proposal — specifically the additional funds for state and local governments — that he remained hesitant toward, but he appreciated efforts to mitigate some of the overall concerns.
“There was a caveat there that was based on real revenue losses, and that caveat gives me hope that if we’re willing to look at real facts and real losses, that hopefully we can get to something that actually makes sense,” he said.
The debate around whether or not to fund state and local government has been a sticking point between Republicans and Democrats since talks for a fifth relief bill began in the early summer. The latest GOP proposal didn’t include any new funds, while top Democrats’ last request was around $900 billion.
Rank-and-file Democrats have called for additional House votes on coronavirus legislation for weeks now, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted those calls as she doesn’t want to take a slimmed-down approach.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, acknowledged that there’s dissent among her members but brushed it off as part of having a large caucus.
“Welcome to my world. I have a beautifully diverse caucus,” she said Wednesday on MSNBC. “There are some who want me to put the Heroes Act, $3.4 trillion, back on the floor, because it is very well developed. It is science-based, academically based, institutionally based, as to why we need that money.”
“In order to stay with meeting them halfway, we’ll have to make further cuts, but that’s about negotiation. We can put a bill on the floor, but we want to put a bill on the floor that will become law,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
She doubled down on the Democrats’ expensive package and accused Republicans of having a “vengeance” against state and local governments.
Talks between White House negotiators and congressional Democrats collapsed last month, none of the negotiators have had much luck in restarting them in earnest. Mrs. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin have shifted their focus to getting a stop-gap government funding bill through Congress by the end of the month.
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