WASHINGTON -- Prospects for a quick deal to extend supplemental unemployment benefits and other stimulus for an economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic have taken a sharp turn for the worse, leaving millions of Americans in the lurch a week after many benefits expired.
The light at the end of the tunnel spotted Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., turned markedly more dire by Thursday. That light might not be a bipartisan agreement, she said, but rather it "may be a freight train."
Still, both she and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled that they remain intent on eventually reaching an agreement.
"Exactly when that deal comes together, I can't tell you, but I think it will at some point in the near future," McConnell said on CNBC Thursday morning.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has set this weekend as an informal deadline for a deal, saying that if the parties didn't reach one this weekend, he didn't see one happening at all. At that point, he said, the White House would consider executive orders, but the administration's options are limited.
"If we don't reach (agreement on) a top-line number there becomes very little incentive -- very little incentive -- to have further conversations," Meadows said as he entered a negotiation meeting with Democratic leaders on Thursday evening.
Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin left that meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., more than three hours later without much visible progress. The two sides cited wide remaining gulfs on the overall price of a deal and the amount of money to help state and local governments with the impact of the illness, a top priority of Democrats.
"There's a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart" on, Mnuchin said. On the other hand, "there's a lot of issues we are close to a compromise position on," he added, but declined to identify them.
Schumer said Democrats were "very disappointed in the meeting."
In reality, however, three months from Election Day, neither side can afford to leave the negotiating table. The fate of President Donald Trump's second term and control of the Senate, which is now held by Republicans, may rest on Trump and the GOP's handling of the coronavirus-plagued economy.