Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a letter to his Democratic colleagues, ripped into the forthcoming scaled-back Senate Republican stimulus proposal, underscoring the massive gulf that continues to exist between the parties in the negotiations for a new coronavirus relief package.
“Republicans may call their proposal ‘skinny,’ but it would be more appropriate to call it ‘emaciated,’” Schumer wrote Thursday to his members. “Their proposal appears to be completely inadequate and, by every measure, fails to meet the needs of the American people.”
The letter sets the stage for a partisan battle that will re-commence in earnest when senators return from the summer recess period next week. Talks between Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top White House officials imploded nearly a month ago and have yet to make any headway in the weeks since. Democrats have pressed for a wide-ranging, multi-trillion dollar proposal to provide funds for schools, rental assistance for states and localities, health providers and small businesses.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the top GOP negotiators, have rejected the Democratic topline repeatedly and pressed to move a smaller scale package consisting primarily of areas where at least topline bipartisan agreement exists. Pelosi and Schumer have refused, castigating Republicans for underestimating the scale of the need created by the worst pandemic in a century.
The dynamics have led to an increasingly pessimistic view on Capitol Hill that a new relief package – following on the $2.2 trillion CARES Act – is even possible at all. Meadows, in private conversations with Senate Republicans, has repeated said he doesn’t think a deal is possible with Democrats given their current posture, multiple sources have told CNN.
“It’s tough to go more than a month with literally zero progress,” one person involved in the negotiations told CNN. “Yet somehow that’s exactly what has happened.”
The divide carries with it massive ramifications for the weeks ahead, as the country continues to grapple with the economic devastation created by the pandemic and the public policy response to it. Lawmakers themselves face the threat of a government shutdown at the end of September if an agreement isn’t reached on an all-encompassing funding measure.
And it all comes as control of the Senate – and the White House itself – hangs in the balance in an increasingly heated election season.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has remained outside of the direct negotiations between Democratic leaders and the White House, made clear that the divide between the two sides remains significant, saying Wednesday the talks remain at a “stalemate.”
“I can tell you I do think we do need to reach agreement, and it’s harder to do now because we’re so much closer to the election,” McConnell said. “The cooperative spirit we had in March and April has dissipated as we move closer and closer to the election.”
The Senate GOP leadership, for weeks, has been working behind the scenes toward building internal consensus on a scaled-back, or “skinny” proposal, that would give the party an opportunity to show a unified front in a floor vote, aides said. That proposal, which would include funds for education, small business, a scaled-back enhanced federal unemployment benefit and liability protections, has been circulated between members but not released publicly.
The proposal has been discussed at length in regular conference calls between Senate Republicans and the top White House negotiators.
Republican leadership is moving toward a procedural vote to take up the GOP proposal next week should they lock in more than 50 GOP supporters – something aides say Republicans are on track to achieving, particularly as front-line Republican senators face difficult reelection battles in November.
“We’re close,” a senior GOP aide told CNN. “I think everyone recognizes we have members in our conference that need to show we’re working toward addressing the problems people are facing right now.”
Schumer’s letter, however, makes clear that effort would be blocked from advancing by Democrats, bringing the two sides back to a baseline that has consisted of hours of negotiations and talks, yet little if any signal that a topline difference of nearly a trillion dollars – and significant hurdles that exist in the policy details themselves – will be resolved in the near term.
“It is clear Republicans are trying to ‘check the box’ and give the appearance of action rather than actually meet the truly profound needs of the American people,” Schumer wrote to his colleagues.
CNN’s Ali Zaslav, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.