By Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A breakdown in talks between the White House and top Democrats in Congress over how to help tens of millions of Americans suffering in the coronavirus pandemic entered a fifth day on Wednesday, with neither side ready to resume negotiations.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said there may be no deal to reach with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, with more than 5.16 million COVID-19 cases in the United States.
Pelosi described the two sides as “miles apart” with a “chasm” between them.
The global pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on the United States, where it has killed more than 164,000 people, more than any other country, and made tens of millions of workers jobless, who have now seen a further hit after $600 per week in additional federal unemployment benefits expired last month.
Congress has already approved about $3 trillion in assistance for families, hospitals, healthcare workers, state and local governments, vaccine research and testing.
Talks on a new package broke down last Friday after Democrats offered to reduce their demand for more than $3 trillion in additional aid by about $1 trillion, if the White House agreed to come up by a similar amount from an initial $1 trillion Republican proposal.
Sticking points include the size of an extended unemployment benefit, aid to state and local governments, money for schools to reopen and other issues.
Asked if deal was still possible, Mnuchin told Fox Business Network: “I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise. If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal.”
But Pelosi reiterated Democratic calls for the White House to “meet in the middle.”
“Until they’re ready to do that, it’s no use sitting in a room and letting them tell us that states should go bankrupt,” she told MSNBC. “As a practical matter, they’re going to have to come to the table.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not join any of the negotiating sessions, blamed Pelosi and Schumer for the ongoing impasse.
“Republicans wanted to reach agreement on all these issues where we could find common ground and fight over the last few issues later.” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“But the speaker and the Democratic leader say nothing can move unless very one of these unrelated far-left items tags along.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that Americans divide blame pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Writing by David Morgan; Editing by Toby Chopra, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)