WASHINGTON (CN) — Covid never came up, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday, recapping talks with Republicans that focused exclusively on the federal budget as the country marked its 250,000th death to the pandemic.
“Yesterday there was a meeting of the staff of the four corners, that’d be the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican leaders,” Pelosi said Friday. “The anticipation was that it was really about the omnibus — remember, we have to have an omnibus bill, we must keep government open.”
The Legislative and Executive branches have until December 11 to resolve their disputes over funding the government into 2021, before risking a shutdown. Pelosi said Democrats and Republicans seemed focused on funding a budget without a continuing resolution — joint legislation that provides funding for government agencies, until the government sorts out specific appropriation details.
Pelosi said Democrats had hoped the meeting would segue into a discussion about Covid-19 relief funding. That didn’t happen. Pelosi also noted that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had sent a letter to Republican leadership Tuesday, urging them to return to the negotiating table on a new stimulus deal.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday he would speak with GOP leadership — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — to coordinate a plan to speak with Pelosi and other Democratic leadership.
“I understand that the Democrats didn’t want us to do anything before the election because they didn’t want to do something that could be helpful to the president,” Mnuchin said. “But I had hoped now that we’re passed the election, the Democrats would work with us.”
Mnuchin also defended a plan to end small business lending programs through the Federal Reserve by the end of 2020 — including the municipal liquidity facility, which lends funds to local governments.
But Pelosi told reporters Democrats hadn’t left the negotiating table for six months, waiting for a response from the other side. As for about $138 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds ready to be allocated to small businesses, it was “up to the administration” to release funds to suffering businesses, she said.
“The fiscal soundness of our state and local governments is important to the fiscal soundness of our country,” Pelosi added. “So, it doesn’t make any sense in terms of, meeting the needs of people, honoring the work of our heroes and again, the soundness of our economy.”
Democrats, she said, had passed the Heroes Act in May, earmarking $500 billion for states and another $376 billion for localities to support testing and contact tracing efforts. Additional $600 a week unemployment benefits were added to that package, along with $10 billion to the food stamp program and other supportive provisions.
Republicans called the bill a “Democratic wish list” of policies, instead forwarding their own bill in July that included funding for reconstruction of the FBI headquarters.
Pelosi said Friday that the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday underscores the importance of helping food-deficient families. Millions of people had become food insecure throughout the pandemic and face the threat of becoming homeless.
The pandemic also had complicated how volunteer and governmental services provided assistance.
“Sadly, our traditional, some of the things that we do regularly but especially at Thanksgiving to administer to those who are food insecure and the rest, will not actually be possible, but nonetheless we must try,” Pelosi said.