White House, Lawmakers Tangle Over Scope of New Coronavirus Legislation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) —
President Donald Trump departs after addressing a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Top Trump administration officials and Democratic congressional leaders will try on Wednesday to narrow their stark differences over a coronavirus aid bill, with no guarantees they can craft a compromise before some jobless benefits expire at the end of this week.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were expected to resume negotiations with the two senior Democrats in Congress – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

An hour-long meeting of the four broke up late on Tuesday afternoon amid no sign of progress.

“I don’t know that I would characterize it as getting closer” to a deal, Meadows told reporters.

Senate Republican leaders are pushing for around $1 trillion in new aid, on top of more than $3 trillion enacted since early this year. Democrats see a far greater need as they back $3 trillion in new spending.

In late March, Washington enacted a wide-ranging aid bill that included $600 per week in “enhanced” unemployment benefits. The goal was to rescue millions of U.S. workers who had suddenly lost their jobs because of shutdowns to combat the coronavirus pandemic. That benefit is due to expire on Friday.

Democrats are pushing to extend the $600 for several more months. Republicans, arguing that it discourages some workers who had lower-paying jobs from seeking employment, have proposed temporarily reducing the federal payment to $200 a week, on top of state unemployment benefits.

Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned that a deal was not likely to take shape “overnight.”

Thune said some in his party “don’t think that we probably need to be doing anything more at this point” in response to the coronavirus.

Besides the jobless benefit, lawmakers are also arguing over a Republican plan to prevent liability lawsuits against businesses and schools reopening during the pandemic.

Democrats want to help state and local governments avoid massive layoffs as their revenues dwindle because of the economic slowdown.


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