Progress slow as urgency grows on virus relief bill
Dems, GOP seek to reach agreement by week’s end
WASHINGTON — Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints on Tuesday that Democratic negotiators are staking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.
Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Trump administration officials to declare more progress. The Trump team agreed with that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.
“We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they appreciated,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues but we’re continuing to go back.”
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday’s session was “probably the most productive meeting we’ve had to date.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week.
“I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that had been made by the Democrat negotiators,” Meadows said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a pointed reminder that she and Schumer are “legislators with long experience” and a track record of working complicated deals — a rejoinder to critics complaining that they are being too tough and that the talks are taking too long.
“We agree that we want to have an agreement,” Pelosi said. “Let’s engineer back from there as to what we have to do to get that done.”
Another glimmer of hope emerged as a key Senate Republican telegraphed that the party may yield to Democrats on an increase in the food stamp benefit as part of the huge rescue measure, which promises to far exceed a $1 trillion target set by the GOP.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday that “you can make an argument that we need some kind of an increase” in food stamps and that he’s raised the topic with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He added that an agreement on that issue could lead to further overall progress on the legislation, which remains stalled despite days of Capitol negotiations.