President Donald Trump and Congress have already agreed to a deal to continue funding the federal government and avoid a government shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, Vice President Mike Pence said Friday. The agreement did not touch on coronavirus relief, which remains a contentious topic between Democrats and Republicans in Washington so that they can focus on that next. Talks on the next coronavirus relief package have been stalled for nearly a month.
Congress and the White House are set to approve a continuing resolution to keep funding the government at current spending levels so the debate about relief would not seep into keeping the government working, Pence told CNBC's Squawk on the Street. "Now, we can focus just on another relief bill, and we're continuing to do that in good faith," the vice president said. He later complained that Democrats in Congress are trying to use a coronavirus relief bill "to bail out poorly run Democratic states."
The coronavirus relief package talks stalled back on Aug. 7, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in person. The White House has insisted the next package must only be $1.3 trillion, while Democrats want a $2.2 trillion package, which is already $1 trillion less than the HEROES Act passed in the House in May. Democratic leaders have called for over $900 billion in spending for state and local governments, but the Trump Administration only offered $150 billion. The bipartisan National Governors Association asked Congress for at least $500 billion in aid, noting they will have to make cuts of essential services without the help.
One thing the two sides have agreed on is the need for another stimulus check to Americans. The economic impact payment program in the CARES Act only provided for a single $1,200 payment to individuals. Both the HEROES Act and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposed HEALS Act included another check "Nobody wants to give direct payments to American families more than Donald Trump again," Pence said Friday.
Pence's comments came after the Labor Department said the unemployment rate dropped to 8.4% as nonfarm payrolls jumped by 1.37 million last month. The data is "real evidence that the American comeback is underway," Pence said. However, the jobless rate is still much higher than it was before the pandemic began. There was also a jump in permanent job losses to 3.4 million in August.