White House, Senate GOP try again on coronavirus stimulus package

Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (News Nation) — Senate Republicans are expected to roll out a $1 trillion pandemic relief package on Monday, as the clock ticks this week for the expiration of the $600 unemployment checks.

The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — spent the weekend on Capitol Hill to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on the relief bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring forward Monday afternoon, the Associated Press reports.

“We’re done,” Mnuchin said as he and Meadows left Capitol Hill on Sunday after meeting with GOP staff.

But looming deadlines may force them to consider other options. By Friday, millions of out-of-work Americans will lose their $600 federal unemployment benefit, and federal eviction protections for many renters are also coming to an end.

“They’re in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America’s families,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.

Pelosi is against the Trump administration’s desire to trim the $600 weekly unemployment boost to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. She also said she opposes tackling a relief package in a piecemeal fashion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, accompanied by Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa., right, listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 24, 2020, on the extension of federal unemployment benefits. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, the administration officials converged on the Capitol to revive the Republican package that fell apart last week. Republican senators and the White House are at odds over various items, including how to cutback the jobless benefit without fully doing away with it.

Meadows said as the White House was “looking for clarity” on a “handful” of remaining issues with Republicans, but they had yet to talk to McConnell. “We have an agreement in principle,” he said.

Both Mnuchin and Meadows said earlier Sunday that narrower legislation might need to be passed first to ensure that enhanced unemployment benefits don’t run out for millions of Americans. They cited unemployment benefits, money to help schools reopen, tax credits to keep people from losing their jobs, and lawsuit protections for schools and businesses as priorities.

“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues,” Mnuchin said.

But negotiations with Democrats have yet to begin with billions at stake and deadlines near.

Separately, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units, due to expire at the end of the month, will be extended.

“We will lengthen it,” he said, without specifying for how long.

On the jobless benefits, Republicans have argued that federal jobless benefits should be trimmed because the combination of state and federal unemployment assistance left many people better off financially than they were before the pandemic and therefore disinclined to return to their jobs.

Many Democrats contend that a lot of people don’t feel safe going back to work when there’s an uptick in coronavirus cases and deaths in certain parts of the country.

Meadows, a former congressman who was the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he is working with Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to address complaints that outdated state computer systems will make it difficult for the jobless to get their benefits in a timely fashion if the formula is changed.

“It’s our goal to make sure that it’s not antiquated computers that keep people from getting their benefits,” Meadows said.

House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago, with the aim of jump-starting negotiations.

Last week, the GOP bill was expected to bring $105 billion to help schools reopen, new money for virus testing and benefits for businesses, including a fresh round of loans, tax breaks and a sweeping liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits. The size and scope of the legislation prevented it from moving forward.

The White House floated plans to cut the additional aid back to $100 a week, while Senate Republicans preferred $200. Meanwhile, the general GOP agreement is to phase out the flat boost in favor of one that ensures no more than 70% of an employee’s previous pay.

Apart from jobless benefits, Mnuchin said Saturday that new $1,200 direct payments would be based on the same formula from the earlier aid bill. Then, people making $75,000 or less received the full amount and those making more than $75,000 received less, depending on their income. People earning above $100,000 did not qualify for the payment.

The jobless benefit officially expires July 31, but due to the way states process unemployment payments, the cutoff was effectively Saturday.

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Meadows spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Mnuchin was on “Fox News Sunday,” Pelosi appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Kudlow was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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