WASHINGTON – Hopes that talks on a huge COVID-19 relief deal would generate an agreement soon are fizzling, with both the Trump administration negotiating team and top congressional Democrats adopting hard lines and testy attitudes.
Now that President Donald Trump has issued a series of executive edicts and the national political conventions are set to begin, consuming the attention of both Trump and top Democrats, the talks seem to be on an indefinite pause. The urgency has evaporated now that rank-and-file lawmakers have been set free for the August recess, and while both sides still want an agreement — and pressure is likely to remain high — it’s looking more like a September legislating effort than an August one.
The impasse leaves millions of jobless people without a $600-per-week pandemic bonus jobless benefit that has helped families stay afloat, leaves state and local governments seeking fiscal relief high and dry, and holds back a more than $100 billion school aid package. Money for other priorities, including the election, may come too late, if at all.
Still, it’s not like Washington politicians to leave so much money on the table. No one is giving up on an accord, though near-term prospects aren’t promising. Based on weeks of reporting on the talks, here’s a look at the key obstacles to an agreement:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s displaying her stern streak in her dealings with top Republicans, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, have adopted hardball negotiating tactics as they survey a tactical landscape that favors them. They have given some ground on the overall price tag, but say it’s up to Republicans to acknowledge the scope of the crisis.
Trump is eager for an agreement, much of the country expects one, and it’s not too difficult to sketch one out on paper. But Pelosi may have to cede ground to Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who have largely abandoned the talks when confronted with Pelosi’s demands. And Trump’s team ultimately may have to make more concessions than they think since Republicans are split.
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