VIRUS AID TALKS AT RISK OF COL­LAPSE

Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS - BY AN­DREW TAY­LOR

WASHINGTON — Washington talks on vi­tal COVID-19 res­cue money are tee­ter­ing on the brink of col­lapse after a marathon meet­ing in the Capi­tol Thurs­day night gen­er­ated a wave of re­crim­i­na­tions but lit­tle progress on the top is­sues con­fronting ne­go­tia­tors.

“There’s a hand­ful of very big is­sues that we are still very far apart” on, said Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin, who de­picted a stale­mate on aid to states and lo­cal govern­ments and re­new­ing sup­ple­men­tal un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows said they would re­turn to the White House to brief Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to con­sider next steps. Demo­cratic ne­go­tia­tors pleaded for talks to con­tinue.

Both sides said the fu­ture of the ne­go­ti­a­tions is un­cer­tain. Trump is con­sid­er­ing ex­ec­u­tive orders to ad­dress evic­tions and un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance in the com­ing days.

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.

Fail­ure would also bring po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences that may be dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, but among those most in­vested in reach­ing an agree­ment are Se­nate Repub­li­cans fac­ing dif­fi­cult re­elec­tion races this fall. Trump, whose drop in the polls has co­in­cided with the con­tin­ued spread of the virus, had been seen as keen to get a deal as well. But his top ne­go­tia­tors sig­naled they are ready to walk away.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would con­sider ways to curb the over­all cost of the leg­is­la­tion, but cast the im­passe as a deeper philo­soph­i­cal dis­pute be­tween the two sides.

“We’re very far apart. It’s most un­for­tu­nate,” she said.

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

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 de­mand for food stamps and as­sis­tance to renters and home­own­ers fac­ing evic­tion or fore­clo­sure.

“We be­lieve the pa­tient needs a ma­jor op­er­a­tion while Repub­li­cans want to ap­ply just a Band-Aid,” Schumer said.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin (right) and White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows speak on Thurs­day.

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