Republicans, Democrats trade blame for stalled U.S. coronavirus aid legislation

FILE PHOTO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Delivers Weekly Press Conference

By David Lawder and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for stalled talks on coronavirus aid legislation on Sunday, a day after the House of Representatives approved $25 billion in new funds for the U.S. Postal Service, a bill that Republicans declared dead.

The Democratic-led House passed the bill on Saturday in a special session called by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to prevent dwindling Postal Service funding and planned service cuts from interfering with delivery of mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

But the vote failed to shift a stalemate over the next phase of coronavirus aid since Aug. 6, when talks between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders broke down over funding levels and unemployment benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Republican-controlled chamber would “absolutely not pass” the postal bill.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Sunday criticized the Democratic vote as “a largely messaging bill” and blamed Pelosi for failing to agree on broader legislation that included supplemental unemployment benefits. He had, however, reached out to Pelosi’s office on Saturday.

“I haven’t heard from the speaker yet. I am going to make a phone call to her today,” Meadows said on ABC’s “This Week”. “My challenge to the speaker this morning would be this: If we agree on five or six things, let’s go ahead and pass those.”

He said President Donald Trump would be willing to sign such a bill that includes postal service reform and funding. The Trump administration had previously offered $10 billion in additional postal funding, but the two sides remain far apart on overall funding levels.

Pelosi shot back on CNN’s “State of the Union”, saying that the postal bill addressed “an emergency immediately and it’s something that should be bipartisan.”

“The public is demanding action on this now,” Pelosi said.

She also said Trump was stalling needed coronavirus relief for cities and children for political gain, signaling that negotiations were likely to make little progress during the Republican National Convention, which gets underway this week.

“This is like ancient Rome. Trump fiddles while Rome burns, while America burns,” Pelosi said. “And Trump gives bread and circuses without the bread. So we’ll see the circus this week with his convention.”

House Democrats passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill in May that included substantial aid to state and local governments and extension of $600-a-week in federal supplemental unemployment benefits, which are now expired. Pelosi has largely stuck to those demands in talks with Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The two Republican officials had initially offered only $1 trillion in new coronavirus funds, lacking state and local aid with only $400 a week in unemployment benefit. Trump has since signed an executive order extending benefits at that level and deferring payment of some payroll taxes but implementation details are unclear.

Meadows told Fox News Sunday that he hoped that Republican senators would take up the House Postal Service bill and amend it to “actually address many of the things that are hurting America right now in terms of this pandemic response and be able to get it to the president’s desk.”

(Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)