President Trump lashed out at Democrats on Wednesday over the stalled-out coronavirus relief negotiations, accusing the lawmakers of withholding stimulus payments from "people who desperately need the money."
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"Democrats are 'heartless'," Trump tweeted. "They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."
The odds of Congress passing another round of emergency relief before the Nov. 3 election shrank considerably last week after Democrats rejected a scaled-back proposal, estimated to cost about $300 billion, from Senate Republicans.
Lawmakers are working on an increasingly tight deadline, with just a few weeks before they leave Washington to campaign.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of the lead negotiators for the White House, said his focus now is ensuring Congress passes a stopgap measure to keep federal agencies open beyond Sept. 30. (Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they have agreed to work on a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1.)
He said he was unsure whether the two sides could reach a compromise on another round of emergency relief.
Asked about the odds for a deal this year, Mnuchin said, “I don’t know. We’ll see. I hope there is. It’s important to a lot of people out there."
Pelosi told her caucus on a conference call Thursday that she intends to keep members in Washington until a deal is reached.
One of the biggest points of contention is the package's cost: Democrats have offered to come down $1 trillion from the roughly $3 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. But the White House and Republican leaders want to keep the price tag closer to $1 trillion amid growing concerns over the nation's ballooning deficit.
The impasse has put at risk potentially trillions of dollars in aid for families and small businesses, including a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks, extra unemployment aid for millions of out-of-work Americans, $100 billion to help reopen schools, and relief for cash-strapped state and local governments.
While the nation's economy has mounted a slow-but-steady recovery, new government data shows the labor market is still far from pre-crisis levels: Employers added 1.4 million jobs in August and the unemployment rate fell to 8.4%, but there are still 11.5 million more out-of-work Americans than there were in February.
Democrats and Republicans have each blamed the other side for the stalled-out talks.
“The race for treatments and vaccines has gone without the additional funding that Republicans wanted to deliver,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week. “Families have gone without the economic relief that Republicans wanted to put in their pockets. And Washington Democrats have just kept trying to run out the clock until November.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, accused McConnell of trying to pass an "emaciated, inadequate" bill that was "designed to fail."
"Americans need help now, and Congress needs to respond in a way that meets the nation’s very real and urgent needs," he tweeted last week.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urged the two sides to come together and compromise on an aid package last week, noting there's wide bipartisan support for enhanced federal unemployment benefits, aid for schools, additional funding for small businesses and a fresh round of stimulus checks.
He said he remained "optimistic" that voters could see additional stimulus measures before the election.
"There's more we agree upon than what we disagree upon," he told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo last week. "I think it's time we put politics aside, pass this stimulus, actually allow it to go to the president's desk."