White House Signals Some Flexibility on New COVID-19 Relief Legislation

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday it is unlikely Congress and the Trump administration can reach an agreement on a comprehensive package of COVID-19 relief legislation.

“We’re still willing to be engaged, but I’m not optimistic for a comprehensive deal,” Meadows said in a Fox News interview. “I am optimistic that there’s about 10 things that we can do on a piecemeal basis.”

Meadows said the administration prefers a piecemeal approach even as he said the talks had ended one day after President Trump had halted negotiations until after the November 3 election.

Meadows did not specify the items the administration prefers, but he repeated Trump’s Tuesday night tweet that he would support separate pieces of legislation to aid America’s airlines and small businesses as well as provide stimulus checks to individuals.

Meadows said Tuesday the administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agree on “about 10 things” the administration is “willing to look at” if Pelosi is willing to consider them on a “piece-by-piece basis.”

Pelosi has expressed a preference for grouping together coronavirus response efforts rather than tackling them with individual legislation. Pelosi said Tuesday the House would approve more aid legislation, despite Trump’s refusal to negotiate.

The Democratic-led House previously approved a comprehensive package of legislation that would provide a range of relief measures as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., infecting more than 7.5 million Americans and killing some 211,000, the highest in the world.

Trump said Tuesday the Democratic proposals were not acceptable, and that he was directing administration officials to halt talks until after next month’s election.

Trump’s statements came in a series of tweets, including one later in which he proposed approving several individual relief provisions instead of a larger collection of measures like the government has done several times this year.

“If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” Trump wrote.

Trump also said he would give quick approval to bills providing billions of dollars to airlines and small businesses.

In recent weeks, Pelosi has met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other administration officials as the two sides sought to find common ground with their spending proposals.

Besides differences on individual elements, the two sides remained far apart on the total price tag, with administration officials saying they were willing to go up to about $1.6 trillion, and Democrats saying they would cut their original proposal down to about $2.2 trillion in spending.

A compromise plan, even at the lower end of the spending range, would still face an uncertain fate in the Senate, with a number of Republicans expressing opposition to a package of that size.

Pelosi issued a statement sharply critical of Trump’s declaration that he was halting talks and asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to instead focus on confirming his nominee for a vacant Supreme Court seat.

“Walking away from coronavirus talks demonstrates that President Trump is unwilling to crush the virus, as is required by the Heroes Act,” Pelosi said. “He shows his contempt for science, his disdain for our heroes — in health care, first responders, sanitation, transportation, food workers, teachers, teachers, teachers and others — and he refuses to put money in workers’ pockets, unless his name is printed on the check.”

Trump, in his tweets, accused the Democrats of “playing ‘games’’ with the stimulus payments to individuals.

“They just wanted to take care of Democrat failed, high crime, Cities and States. They were never in it to help the workers, and they never will be!” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it is Trump who is not interested in helping Americans, and he accused the president of failing to lead during the pandemic.

“Make no mistake: if you are out of work, if your business is closed, if your child’s school is shut down, if you are seeing layoffs in your community, Donald Trump decided today that none of that — none of it — matters to him,” Biden said in a statement.

Source: Voice Of America