White House, Democrats aim for virus relief deal by end of week

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House and Democrats aim to strike a deal on virus-relief legislation by the end of the week 一 even though the two sides remain far apart on some key issues.

“We’re not at the point of being close to a deal, but we did try to agree to set a timeline,” Mnuchin said after meeting Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “We’re going to try to reach an overall agreement, if we can get one, by the end of this week 一 so that legislation could then pass next week.”

Pelosi said during a PBS interview Tuesday evening that she also hoped a deal could be reached this week, with legislation drafted and passed next week. “We have to have an agreement And we will have an agreement,” she said.

Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that Republicans would agree to a moratorium on evictions through the end of the year, and made an offer on supplemental unemployment insurance, one of the main sticking points in the negotiations.

Earlier in the day, many lawmakers said they were skeptical that a deal could be in hand by Friday. Even if that were achieved, a vote likely wouldn’t be taken by the House and Senate until next week, meaning there would be a gap in the unemployment payments, which ran out last Friday.

Making Concessions

In one sign of genuine movement in the talks, Schumer said the two sides were exchanging detailed written proposals.

“They have made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions which they appreciated,” Schumer said. Still, he added that the sides “are still far away on a lot of issues.”

Heading into the meeting, Meadows and Mnuchin said President Donald Trump was weighing the use of executive authority for some virus aid if no deal is reached. Trump has said he is contemplating unilateral action on evictions, unemployment benefits and the payroll tax. Meadows indicated after the meeting that the White House would be holding off for now.

Meadows told reporters that the concessions by the White House were “far more substantial than the concessions that had been made by the Democrats.”

Pelosi and Schumer said they will meet Meadows and Mnuchin on Wednesday, as well as Postmaster General Louis Dejoy on U.S. Postal Service funding needs, which Democrats want in the stimulus package.

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Republican Divisions

Some Republican senators had pressed for floor votes on GOP-only proposals earlier Tuesday, when the prospect of getting an agreement with Democrats this week looked unlikely. But the GOP is divided and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said any agreement would have to have support from a majority of Democrats, even if some Republicans don’t like it.

“if you’re looking for a total consensus among Republicans, you’re not going to find it,” McConnell told reporters.

Whatever the White House and Democrats agree to “is something I’m prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” he said.

Trump appeared to break with Republicans on aid for the jobless. GOP lawmakers have argued that the $600 a week supplemental payments that were in the last stimulus and that Democrats want to continue is too much. Various Republican plans would reduce it to $200, eventually settling at about 70% of replacement wages for most workers.

Asked in an interview with Gray TV whether people should continue to get $600 in extra unemployment aid, Trump replied, “Yeah. I want to get them 一 I want to get them a lot.”

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Schumer said the differences among Republicans have made the negotiations more difficult. “They don’t yet really have a strategic plan, they have little pieces that are supported by some Republicans,” he said.

The negotiators are trying to reconcile differences between the $3.5 trillion Democratic plan passed by the House in May and the $1 trillion package that Senate Republicans introduced last week. Among the major sticking points is Democrats’ insistence on including state and local government aid and McConnell’s demand for liability protections for employers.

The Senate is scheduled to leave for an August break on Friday and the House is already out. But lawmakers could be brought back to vote on 24 hours notice.

In the meantime, the $2.2 trillion in stimulus passed in March is drying up and job losses may be accelerating as a surge of coronavirus cases across the country has forced some states to retreat from plans to let businesses reopen. Overall U.S. employment dropped back-to-back the last two weeks in July, particularly in areas where Covid cases were surging, according to an analysis by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using real-time data from Homebase, an employee scheduling and time tracking tool used by more than 100,000 businesses.

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