Another COVID-19 relief package should be coupled with government funding, which expires Sept. 30 unless extended in a stopgap bill, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday.
“I think that if we do a COVID deal right now, we ought to just do a continuing resolution as part of that solution so that we take a shutdown off the table,” Meadows said Wednesday at a Politico Playbook event.
However, Meadows said he was “not optimistic” that a deal would come together soon. He blamed Democrats for the inaction and said President Donald Trump is looking at further executive actions to fill the legislative void.
“I think the speaker is going to hold out until the end of September and try to get what she wants in the funding for the government during the CR or whatever funding mechanism happens to come up at the end of September,” Meadows said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she doesn’t want to wait until the end of September to pass more coronavirus aid because "people will die." But she seemed to acknowledge a deal isn’t imminent in sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to Democrats Tuesday night urging them to hold virtual events in their districts Sept. 2 “to shine a light on the urgency of Senate passage of" the $3.4 trillion aid package the House passed in May.
Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been negotiating with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer until talks broke down in early August. Meadows said he hasn't talked to Pelosi since then, and Mnuchin has only had one phone call with the speaker that did not go well.
Meadows said he had his chief of staff reach out to Pelosi's chief of staff on Tuesday to note they hadn’t heard anything and see if Democrats wanted to restart negotiations.
“I don’t anticipate that we’ll actually get a phone call,” Meadows said.
The main disagreement between the parties continues to be the cost of a package. Meadows said Democrats want a $2.3 trillion or $2.4 trillion package “without any guardrails or parameters.”
“What [Pelosi] said to us in the room is, ‘You give us the amount of money, we’ll tell you how we’re going to spend it.’ That’s not how negotiations happen.”
‘Not yet in agreement’
Pelosi has said on numerous occasions that Democrats are willing to compromise by cutting $1 trillion off the cost of the Democrats preferred $3.4 trillion package. But she said Republicans would also need to agree to spend at $1 trillion more, which would double the cost of the $1 trillion series of proposals they offered in July.
“Democrats and Republicans are not yet in agreement on funding numbers,” Pelosi said in her “Dear Colleague” letter, attributing part of the impasse to disagreement on education aid as the school year begins.
“Our negotiations on education are complicated because there is a vast difference in the amount needed for schools and how it would be spent,” she said, accusing Trump of “bullying schools to reopen” without adequate funds.
Pelosi has also been clear that state and local aid is a big priority for Democrats and Republicans haven’t been willing to provide even close to the amount of money Democrats think is needed.
Despite not having conversations with Pelosi, Meadows said he’s been talking to Democrats in the House and Senate.
“A lot of them want a deal and are being very, very reasonable in their requests. I think if we got back in the room with some of their priorities we could cut a deal,” he said, but predicted Democratic leaders would continue to resist compromising for a “political advantage.”
House members in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus have had several conversations with Meadows in recent weeks, including a meeting at the Capitol Saturday while the House was in town to pass legislation that would provide $25 billion for the Postal Service and block operational changes implemented this year.
Meadows also swung by Pelosi’s office on Saturday to try to meet with her but she was unavailable. He had been pitching a smaller package combining the Postal Service funding with small business aid and unemployment benefits.
Pelosi, asked about Meadows’ proposal during a press conference Saturday, noted all the things he left out like funding for schools, fighting the virus, rental assistance and state and local governments. “That’s completely unacceptable,” she said.
Stopgap fight ahead?
Meadows and Mnuchin also continue to hold daily calls with Republican senators, who Meadows says are “willing to make compromises.” A number of them are willing to attach COVID-19 relief to a continuing resolution, he added.
However, one Republican lawmaker said Tuesday after participating in two separate calls on the matter that it appears the next COVID-19 bill and the CR are moving on separate tracks.
There’s likely to be a fight between the parties on how long a stopgap should last, with Democrats wanting to punt into next year when they hope they’ll have control of the Senate and the White House and most Republicans wanting to get something done during a lame-duck session in December.
The Sept. 30 government funding deadline is also when the $25 billion in aid commercial passenger airlines received in payroll support as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March expires.
On Tuesday, American Airlines executives told employees if aid is not renewed through March 31, 2021, it will have no choice but to furlough or lay off a total of 19,000 in October. United Airlines in July reported it would furlough some 36,000 employees if payroll support is not extended.
There is bipartisan support for extending the program through March 31, 2021. Meadows said he spoke with American, United and Delta Air Lines and that while he believes a legislative package is likely needed to provide the airlines further aid, the White House is also looking at options as it readies additional executive actions.
“We’ve got four executive actions that actually the president took,” he said. “We’re going to take a few others, because if Congress is not going to work this president is going to get to work and solve problems. So hopefully we can help out the airlines and keep some of those employees from being furloughed.”
Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.