Progress on virus stimulus legislation talks, leaders say


WASHINGTON (AP) — A Tuesday afternoon negotiating session brought concessions from both sides on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation. Leaders laid out a timeline for a possible vote next week.

Democrat negotiators emerged from a 90-minute meeting Tuesday with White House negotiators to declare more progress. Trump administration officials agreed with that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.

“We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they appreciated,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues but we’re continuing to go back.”

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday’s session was “probably the most productive meeting we’ve had to date.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week.

Senate Republicans could agree with Democrats to an increase in the food stamp benefit as part of the rescue measure, which could exceed a $1 trillion target set by the GOP.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday that “you can make an argument that we need some kind of an increase” in food stamps and that he’s raised the topic with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He added that an agreement on that issue could lead to further overall progress on the legislation, which remains stalled despite days of Capitol negotiations.

“They are taking a look at it and I think we can get a positive result,” Roberts told The Associated Press. “If we can get a breakthrough on that, it could lead to some other stuff.”

The food stamp issue — left out of earlier relief bills — is a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The House of Representatives already passed a 15% increase in the food stamp benefit as part of their $3.5 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday that the chamber should not go on recess without passing the huge relief measure, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered an alternative jobless benefit proposal from a pending GOP plan.

Multiple issues still need to be agreed on, including an impasse on extending the $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit aid to the renters facing eviction.

Pelosi wants to extend it through January at a $400 billion-plus cost, while Republicans are proposing an immediate cut to $200 and then replacing the benefit with a system that would attempt to provide 70% of a worker’s “replacement wage.”

Democrats are also pressing for funding for the Postal Service. Schumer and Pelosi summoned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss the agency’s worsening performance and need for emergency funding.

“We’ve seen the delay of mail, and we’re very worried about that affect on the election,” Schumer said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, “the American people in the end need help.”

“Wherever this thing settles between the president … and the Democrats is something I am prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” he said.

Most members of the Democratic-controlled House have left Washington and won’t return until there is an agreement to vote on. The Senate remains in D.C.

Areas of agreement already include another round of $1,200 direct payments and changes to the Paycheck Protection Program to permit especially hard-hit businesses to obtain another loan under special forgiveness terms.

Reporting by Andrew Taylor at Associated Press. AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick also contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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