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Congress Stalled In COVID-19 Relief Bill Discussions

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Democrats and Republicans have not been able to agree on the next round of coronavirus relief after two weeks of talks. In fact, the parties remain largely in the same corners where they began, each still prodding the other to compromise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: So we're hopeful that they will think about it and come back and tell us they're willing to meet us halfway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN MNUCHIN: To the extent that they are willing to make new proposals, the chief and I will be back here anytime to listen to new proposals.

SIMON: That was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer after yesterday's meeting. President Trump says he will act himself if Congress does not pass the aid. NPR's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales joins us. Claudia, thanks for being with us.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Republicans unveiled their proposal in late July. That was months after the Democrats had released theirs. That's weeks and weeks. Why so little progress?

GRISALES: So there's been some progress, but, still, really big differences are on the table. Now the parties are still far apart by trillions on the overall costs of the bill. Among those differences, Democrats want to reinstate the extra unemployment insurance weekly payments of $600 - those expired last week - while Republicans wanted that closer to $200 weekly. And another major gap comes down to aid to state and local governments, which are facing very tough financial pictures. Democrats want to divert nearly a trillion dollars there. Republicans have so far only focused on aid for schools at around $100 billion.

SIMON: President Trump says he's going to move forward on his own if Congress doesn't act. What do we know or infer about what he's considering?

GRISALES: So he did indeed say this last night - without a deal, he's going to issue a series of executive orders to try and address economic relief. White House officials set Friday as a bit of a deadline to do this and move forward with this plan. He blamed Democrats for the lack of progress. Let's take a listen to what he told reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tragically, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer continue to insist on radical left-wing policies that have nothing to do with the China virus, nothing to do with it at all.

GRISALES: So there you hear him blame Democrats, but they would counter that it was the Republicans who wouldn't negotiate. Democrats offered to shave a trillion dollars off their plan. It was at 3 trillion when they started. Republicans, they said, should come up a trillion. They started at the trillion-dollar mark, but they've said that's a nonstarter to get into the $2 trillion range because they're worried about the spending. So we're kind of in a wait-and-see mode on exactly how these executive orders could address these concerns, running from eviction moratoriums to jobless benefit payments.

SIMON: Yeah. And a lot of Americans are waiting on the enhanced unemployment insurance. What happens next with that and negotiations more broadly?

GRISALES: So we're looking at a real impasse on Capitol Hill, and that failure to act may have political ramifications for both sides. And as the economic costs build in the coming days and weeks, perhaps that fuels a new urgency for Congress. We shall see.

Meanwhile, we're very much in the dark how far these executive orders could go. Trump doesn't have the power of the purse - Congress does - and when asked, he wouldn't elaborate how he would find the money to fuel a program that's going to cost a lot of money.

SIMON: Congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, thanks so much for being with us.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.