Capitol Hill coronavirus relief talks collapse as benefits expire

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WASHINGTON – Negotiations between the main Democrats and the Trump administration over a coronavirus relief plan have stalled, ensuring millions of people will lose critical unemployment benefits on Friday – with no clear path for a new aid package .

The negotiations were in a fragile place, as the administration and Democrats sat miles apart on a litany of questions. To further complicate discussions: Senate Republicans disagreed with the White House on fundamental issues of liability protection and a moratorium on evictions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have proposed extending the federal unemployment insurance benefit by another week to $ 600 a week, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., rejected the offer Thursday night, saying a temporary fix would be unnecessary unless the negotiations are mostly completed.

“Let’s say the path they took us with their delay, their denial, their distortions caused death – alliteratively speaking – caused needless deaths,” Pelosi told reporters on Friday.

The switched attacks as the Senate and House left town for the weekend were a clear signal that negotiations on Capitol Hill – where progress behind closed doors typically leads to at least a temporary pause in public antagonism between party leaders – was going to be rather a long process.

Pelosi and Schumer continued to tout the $ 3.4 trillion HEROES bill passed by the House in May. The administration entered negotiations with Democrats this week after Senate Republicans unveiled a $ 1 trillion relief bill – a proposal that still lacks significant support within their own ranks.

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“I think they understand we need to have a bill, but they just don’t realize how big it has to be,” Pelosi said.

The two sides had not planned to meet in person on Friday, but were scheduled to meet in Pelosi’s office on Saturday morning, assistants said.

“Democrats haven’t made any offers in three days. This is not what is a compromise, ”Meadows told NBC News in a phone interview.

The expiration of the $ 600-per-week bonus resulted in a drop in weekly unemployment payments by nearly two-thirds across the country. Average weekly unemployment benefits in the United States are around $ 340, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor.

But some states will suffer more than others. In Florida, where COVID-19 infections have skyrocketed, the average weekly benefit has dropped from $ 850 to about $ 250. In Oklahoma, the average weekly benefit would drop from $ 644 to $ 44, a staggering 93% drop. In Massachusetts, which offers some of the most generous unemployment benefits of any state, average weekly unemployment benefits were expected to drop from $ 1,045 to about $ 445.

The two sides continued to disagree on a number of issues, including how much and for how long to expand federal benefit, food aid funding and money for states and communities.

Meanwhile, divisions between Senate Republicans and the administration continued to grow. The administration reported on Friday that protecting accountability, a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Was not a critical goal.

“That’s a question for Mitch McConnell,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Friday. “It’s his priority.”

McEnany added that the president was “heavily focused” on unemployment benefits, an issue that divided the Republican Senate conference. The Hill GOP offered a $ 200 per week benefit in their bill, drawing criticism from some GOP senators who said the lower number was too high and that there should be no federal extension of the program.

The president also called this week for an extension of the moratorium on evictions, which is set to expire with the August rent deadline, although Meadows has not said whether the White House believes all tenants should be covered or only some. Democrats support a broad ban on evictions, but Senate Republicans have excluded it from their bill.

While the idea of ​​an executive order to remedy a moratorium on evictions has already floated, the president has no plans to do so, Meadows said.

“The president is not expected to take action today on any option. He hopes Democrats will see how many unemployed Americans they are suffering through their bargaining tactics, ”he said.

Rent comes due for many Americans this weekend, with around 23 million saying they have little or no confidence in their ability to make their next rent payment, according to census data analyzed last month by The Wall Street Journal.

The latest talks have left negotiators frustrated and pessimistic about the way forward for a deal. The House was supposed to adjourn for its annual August recess on Friday, but MPs were told to stay on hold, with the possibility that they could be given 24-hour notice to return if a deal was reached.

The Senate sits for at least another week, a schedule that could be extended if progress is not made. McConnell declined to say Tuesday when asked if he plans to keep the chamber in session after next week if no deal is reached.

“We’ll keep you posted,” he said.

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