No deal in sight on coro­n­avirus re­lief leg­is­la­tion as cru­cial ben­e­fits ex­pire

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Sarah D. Wire and Chris Mege­rian

WASH­ING­TON — The $600 fed­eral un­em­ploy­ment sub­sidy and the na­tional evic­tion mora­to­rium on some prop­er­ties ex­pired Fri­day af­ter Democrats and Repub­li­cans failed to reach an agree­ment on an eco­nomic aid pack­age meant to deal with the grow­ing surge of COVID-19.

Congress passed the last ma­jor eco­nomic pack­age in March, and the Demo­crat­i­cled House passed leg­is­la­tion that in­cluded an ex­ten­sion in May. But se­ri­ous at­tempts to ne­go­ti­ate a new deal did not be­gin un­til Se­nate Repub­li­cans put for­ward a coun­ter­pro­posal this week.

That pro­posal by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) was quickly re­jected by some in his own party, and Pres­i­dent Trump called it “semi-ir­rel­e­vant.”

Tens of mil­lions of un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans are re­ly­ing on the fed­eral aid, which is in ad­di­tion to state un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, to help pay rent, buy gro­ceries and pay other bills dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis.

The econ­omy con­tracted by a third be­tween April and June, the swiftest con­trac­tion in his­tory, and more than 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans lost their jobs.

Congress might make the fed­eral un­em­ploy­ment pay­ments retroac­tive if a deal ul­ti­mately is reached, but the de­lay is ex­pected to cause anx­i­ety and hard­ship for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

Days of closed-door ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween House and Se­nate Demo­cratic lead­ers and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sulted in frus­tra­tion and fin­ger­point­ing Fri­day at du­el­ing par­ti­san news con­fer­ences with no res­o­lu­tion in sight.

“We weren’t bick­er­ing. We were hav­ing ma­jor pol­icy dis­agree­ments,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (DSan Fran­cisco) told re­porters. “We don’t have shared val­ues; that’s just the way it is. It’s not bick­er­ing. It’s stand­ing our ground.”

“The Democrats are cer­tainly will­ing to­day to al­low some of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who are strug­gling the most un­der this pan­demic to go un­pro­tected,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Mead­ows said in a sep­a­rate news con­fer­ence. “The Democrats be­lieve that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re will­ing to play those cards at the ex­pense of those that are hurt­ing.”

Ma­jor dif­fer­ences re­main be­tween the House and Se­nate pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing whether to pro­vide more money for SNAP food stamp ben­e­fits and to of­fer help for strug­gling state gov­ern­ments that have seen tax rev­enues plum­met in the re­ces­sion.

Other dis­putes in­clude whether re­opened busi­nesses and schools would be pro­tected from li­a­bil­ity if cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees get in­fected by the coro­n­avirus, and who should re­ceive an­other $1,200 direct check from the gov­ern­ment.

Even the scope of the bill is up in the air, with Repub­li­cans seek­ing to limit it to $1 tril­lion and Democrats propos­ing north of $3 tril­lion.

Democrats want to keep of­fer­ing the $600 a week for un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans through at least the rest of the year. Repub­li­cans have pro­posed ex­tend­ing it for two months at $200 a week, and then lim­it­ing it to 70% of an in­di­vid­ual’s salary, up to $500.

With chances of a quick com­pro­mise dim­ming, Repub­li­cans pro­posed a short­term ex­ten­sion for some un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven T. Mnuchin said af­ter a lengthy meet­ing Thurs­day with Pelosi and Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York that he and Mead­ows had of­fered sev­eral short-term pro­pos­als to ex­tend ben­e­fits while ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tin­ued over a larger, more com­plex bill, but were re­buffed.

“I think the Democrats are will­ing to al­low the en­hanced un­em­ploy­ment to ex­pire; they’ve made that very clear, not once, not twice, but three times, and so I’m not very op­ti­mistic on any­body who’s count­ing on en­hanced un­em­ploy­ment to have any re­lief any­time soon,” he said.

White House Press Sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany said Democrats didn’t of­fer coun­ter­pro­pos­als.

“We’ve made four pro­pos­als. The Democrats have made pre­cisely zero,” McE­nany said.

Pelosi said that the ne­go­ti­a­tions are so far apart that a one-week ex­ten­sion wasn’t worth­while. She has said that a short-term ex­ten­sion would re­move lever­age while ne­go­ti­at­ing a com­plete pack­age.

“What is a one-week ex­ten­sion good for? A one­week ex­ten­sion is good if you have a bill and you’re work­ing it out — the de­tails, the writ­ing of it,” she told re­porters Thurs­day. “It’s worth­less un­less you are us­ing it for this pur­pose.”

In most states, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, the ben­e­fits stopped July 25 be­cause most state un­em­ploy­ment sys­tems op­er­ate on a weekly ba­sis and couldn’t ex­tend the ben­e­fit into the fi­nal, par­tial week of July.

Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin and Mead­ows are ex­pected to con­tinue meet­ing over the week­end, but it’s un­clear whether they’ll be­gin work­ing on the pol­icy hur­dles that re­main.

McCon­nell has in­di­cated that ful­some leg­is­la­tion is pos­si­bly weeks away, and he set up a pos­si­ble vote on a short-term un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fit ex­ten­sion next week if a deal can be reached. The White House on Fri­day in­di­cated it isn’t ready to move to a large-scale bill, ei­ther.

“We have a very spe­cific fo­cus right now, and it’s not this com­pre­hen­sive plan, whether it be the HE­ROES Act the Democrats pro­posed that wasn’t se­ri­ous, or the [GOP’s] HEALS Act,” McE­nany said.

“That nar­row fo­cus is this: that Amer­i­cans are about to lose their un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, and this White House, this chief of staff, this pres­i­dent, this sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury have of­fered sev­eral it­er­a­tions to make sure that Amer­i­cans, who through no fault of their own lost their jobs dur­ing this pan­demic, do not also lose these checks.”

Pelosi said she’s skep­ti­cal Repub­li­cans are ready to start ne­go­ti­at­ing a broad pack­age, say­ing they don’t yet grasp how much will be needed to ad­dress the eco­nomic prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try.

She noted McCon­nell’s pro­posal didn’t in­clude money for SNAP ben­e­fits de­spite long lines at food banks, or money to help states and the U.S. Postal Ser­vice con­duct vot­ing by mail ahead of the Nov. 3 elec­tion.

“The per­son you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing with has to want some­thing,” Pelosi said. “You have to think they might want some­thing for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. So far, so bad.”

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