WH, lawmakers make progress on relief bill, but deal not imminent

Washington, Aug 2 : White House officials and lawmakers said that they have made progress during talks on a new COVID-19 relief bill, while cautioning that major differences remain, according to US media.

“Well, this was the longest meeting we had, and it was more productive than the other meetings,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Saturday after the meeting on Capitol Hill.

“There are many issues that are still very much outstanding, where we’re apart, but we had a serious discussion and we went down piece by piece and saw where each side is at,” Xinhua news agency quoted the Senate Democratic leader as saying.

Echoing Schumer’s remarks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the discussions are “the most productive we’ve had to date”, while stressing that “there’s still a lot of work to do”.

There will be more staff-level discussions on Sunday, and the leaders are set to meet again face-to-face on Monday, according to a Politico news report.

As negotiations for the new relief package stall, the extra $600 unemployment benefits for roughly 30 million people expired on Friday, as did an eviction moratorium.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, facing immense pressure to reach a deal to salvage the economy from COVID-19, have blamed each other for failing to make progress.

“Republicans tried several ways to extend unemployment benefits. Democrats blocked them all,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted on Friday.

“The country can’t afford this cynicism. Americans need help now,” said McConnell.

In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, blamed Republicans for failure to act in time.

“More than 10 weeks ago, we passed the Heroes Act, which had a path to containing this virus with testing, tracing, treatment, mask wearing, sanitation.

“The Republicans said they wanted to ‘take a pause’. Well, the virus didn’t,” Pelosi said on Friday at a weekly press conference, referring to the $3 trillion relief package approved by House Democrats in May.

Senate Republicans on July 27 unveiled their $1 trillion relief package, which would slash the $600 federal unemployment benefits to $200 through September, giving an unemployed worker about 70 per cent of previous wages when combined with state benefits.

But Democrats want to maintain the current level of benefits through January 2021.

The Republican proposal also includes another round of $1,200 direct payments to working Americans, billions in loans to small businesses through Paycheck Protection Program, liability protections for businesses, doctors and schools, as well as aid for schools.

On aid for schools, Republicans planned to approve $105 billion for reopening schools and colleges, while Democrats proposed $430 billion for schools, including $50 billion for child-care facilities.

Another sticking point in the negotiation is direct aid to states and cities, as the Democrats proposed a nearly $1 trillion aid for struggling state and local governments in their $3 trillion relief proposal, while Republicans planned to offer no new money.

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