White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows gave his view on the difficult negotiations between President Donald Trump's administration and Congressional Democratic leaders on the future of the federal unemployment benefits program. According to Meadows, the two sides are still far apart, but they did make some progress during a meeting Saturday morning. At issue is the Democrats' wish to keep sending Americans $600 per week, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed major changes in his HEALS Act.
Since the HEALS Act was introduced Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been negotiating with Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the future of the federal unemployment benefit. Although their Saturday meeting went well, they still have not reached an agreement. "We still have a long way to go," Meadows told CBS News' Face the Nation, adding that Saturday's meeting was a "step in the right direction."
On Sunday, staffers continued working and another meeting is scheduled for Monday. "But I'm not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term," Meadows said. He also praised Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who called for the one-week extension of the benefits.
According to Meadows, Republicans are willing to extend the benefits while negotiations continue on a bigger stimulus package. "I know the president has been very clear in making sure that not only we're willing to address that, but there is enough money to make sure that we address the needs that are out there," Meadows explained. "And yet we continue to see really a stonewalling of any piecemeal type of legislation that happens on Capitol Hill. Hopefully, that will change in the coming days."
Meanwhile, Pelosi told ABC News it was "essential" for the unemployment benefit to be set at $600. "It's essential for America's working families. And, again, to condescend, to disrespect their motivation is so amazing how insistent the Republicans are about working family and their $600 and how cavalier they are about other money that is going out," she said on This Week.
The enhanced federal unemployment benefits program sent 30 million Americans $600 per week until it expired on Friday without any short-term extension. Republicans offered to keep the program going for just one more week, an idea Democrats rejected because they want the program in the next major coronavirus stimulus package. Republicans have also argued that the program was too generous and disincentivized low-wage workers from searching for work. In the HEALS Act, McConnell proposed cutting the benefit down to $200 through September. Democrats proposed extending the program through January 2021 in the HEROES Act, which only passed the House in May and was never taken up by the Senate.