Sat, 26 Sep 2020

Democratic Leaders Try to Revive COVID Aid Talks

Voice of America
08 Aug 2020, 06:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - Democratic leaders sought to revive Washington talks on COVID-19 rescue money, summoning Trump administration negotiators to the Capitol on Friday in hopes of generating progress.

Both sides said the future of the negotiations was uncertain after a combative meeting on Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows Friday afternoon. President Donald Trump said he was considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment insurance, but they appeared unlikely to have much impact.

A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people, and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., emerged from Thursday's meeting to give a pessimistic update about the chances for an agreement.

"We're very far apart. It's most unfortunate," Pelosi said then. In a news conference Friday she said she made an offer to Republicans.

"We'll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion," Pelosi said. She said that her latest offer amounted to about $2.7 trillion; a series of GOP offers issued privately has brought the White House offer to about $1.5 trillion.

Firm stances

Both sides have adopted a hard line in the talks, though the Trump team has been more open in disclosing a handful of its proposed compromises. Republicans were late to agree to the talks and have become frustrated by the inflexible tactics of Pelosi and Schumer, who have been exuding confidence in a political and legislative landscape that appeared tilted in their favor.

The Democratic pair say the federal coronavirus aid package needs to be huge to meet the moment: a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

"We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to apply just a Band-Aid," Schumer said. "We won't let them just pass the Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding."

On Friday, the two pointed to the July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much lower increase than in May and June.

"The latest jobs report shows that the economic recovery spurred by the investments Congress has passed is losing steam and more investments are still urgently needed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of McConnell's rank and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have passed on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

The White House is also promising that Trump will try to use executive orders to address elements of the congressional package involving evictions and jobless benefits. But there's no evidence that the strategy would have much impact or be anything close to what's necessary, and Pelosi appeared unimpressed at a news conference.

"I don't think they know what they're talking about," Pelosi said dismissively Thursday.

Democrats' position

Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their insistence for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

"Don't nickel-and-dime our children," Pelosi said. "Don't say, 'We want to give a tax break to a business lunch and not give more money for children to have food stamps.' "

Pelosi was referring to a GOP proposal to increase the deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%. The idea seems likely to die, along with Trump's efforts to cut the Social Security payroll tax. But Schumer and Pelosi continue to push to restore a tax break for state and local taxes paid mostly by wealthier people with high incomes and valuable homes.

McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to have to assume a higher profile if the talks are to succeed, but he issued a grim assessment of the situation Thursday, again complaining that Pelosi and Schumer were not negotiating in good faith.

"Day after day, they've stonewalled the president's team. Day by day, they've tried to invent new euphemisms to create the illusion of progress," McConnell said.

Frustration was palpable among Republican senators shuttling in and out of a GOP lunch session, some of whom say Schumer is intent on using the situation as a hammer against Republicans. Schumer is desperate to win the Senate majority just as Republicans are in trying to hold on in a terrible political year.

'That's the calculation'

"As long as they calculate that they're better off politically doing nothing, it's going to be hard for us to move forward," said Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "And that's the calculation they've made, it appears."

McConnell is sending the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won't come until late next week, perhaps later.

White House negotiators made some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to state and local governments in a Tuesday session - and then promptly got scalded by Republicans after details leaked out.

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