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Mnuchin says Congress is "very far apart" from deal on coronavirus bill

2 months ago 16

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that Democrats and Republicans are "very far apart" from coming to an agreement over the next coronavirus response legislation, as several relief measures passed in March expire. The stall in negotiations comes as the expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefit that paid out-of-work Americans an extra $600 per week ended on July 25, so unemployed workers will now see smaller checks.

"As of now, we're very far apart. And because of that, the president and we have discussed a short-term extension to UI, and the evictions, so that we have some period to negotiate before this runs out," Mnuchin told reporters in a press briefing on the White House South Lawn Wednesday. 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows later told reporters that he did not believe House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were in a "negotiating mood." Meadows said Republicans and Democrats are "still miles apart on a number of issues" and "there are more issues that we are apart on than where we're closer to consensus." 

"In talking to Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer, they don't appear to be in a negotiating mood. In fact, if anything, I think they're more entrenched now than they were you know even a week ago. And so I'm not optimistic that we'll reach any kind of comprehensive deal," Meadows said.

Because the eviction moratorium also expired at the same time, many Americans are also facing another looming crisis — those unable to pay rent by the end of the month may be kicked out of their homes.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Congress passed expansive relief in March through the CARES Act, which included the $600 unemployment insurance provision. Several Republicans opposed the benefit because it meant that many would receive more money while unemployed than they would if they were working. However, some experts say that this concern is misguided.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation on Monday that would provide an additional $200 per week for unemployed Americans on top of unemployment insurance, until states could calculate a formula to replace 70% of a worker's wages — with about 50% of wages being replaced by states and 20% by the federal government. However, several Republicans still oppose the bill because they think its $1 trillion price tag is too high.

House Democrats proposed and passed their own $3 trillion bill in May, which would restore the $600 per week, and provide another round of direct payments to Americans. Pelosi has repeatedly said that she is against passing a "piecemeal" short-term extension of UI benefits.

President Trump blamed Democrats for not offering enough for Americans, even though the Democrats' legislation would provide more money in extending UI benefits than the Republican bill.

"The Democrats aren't taking care of the people. The payments aren't enough. The payments aren't enough. You understand that. They're not making the payments; they're not making them high enough," Mr. Trump said.

Meanwhile, McConnell said on Tuesday that he would leave negotiations with Democrats to Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. McConnell has said liability protections must be included in the next bill, vowing he won't bring any legislation to the Senate floor which does not include these protections.

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