Democrats report ‘progress, but a ways to go’ on coronavirus aid deal with White House

Democrats report 'progress, but a ways to go' on coronavirus aid deal with White House

Democrats said they are encouraged by “productive” talks with White House officials Saturday, but there is no final deal yet.

“We are not close yet, but it was a productive discussion,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

The main sticking point is the size and scope of the benefits that the two sides seek to provide.

Schumer said the meeting “was the best discussion so far” and characterized the conclusion as “progress, but a ways to go.”

Democrats will meet again on Monday with the Trump team, which is being led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The talks began Saturday as enhanced federal unemployment benefits amounting to $600 per week expired. The two parties are at odds over whether to extend those benefits at the current level and for how long.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters before the meeting that she won’t back any short-term deal to extend the benefits, and Democrats have already rejected such an offer from the White House as well as a Senate measure to extend them for an additional week.

The California Democrat told reporters Saturday she wants an agreement on a broader coronavirus aid package.

Democrats are pushing the White House to accept a $3 trillion measure House Democrats passed in May, named the “HEROES Act” because it awards hazard pay to many workers.

The House bill is three times the cost of a $1 trillion bill that Senate Republicans introduced last week.

“Central to all of this is to defeat the coronavirus and very central to our HEROES Act is a strategic plan to do that,” Pelosi said Saturday, explaining her negotiating tactic.

Democrats say the GOP measure does not include enough benefits and lacks the funding to help state and local governments cope with decreased tax revenue.

Democrats also oppose a lawsuit liability shield included in the Senate GOP bill, but it’s not likely that provision can be stripped out without risking complete opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. McConnell controls the Senate floor and said repeatedly that he won’t pass a coronavirus bill unless it includes the liability shield for businesses, schools, and healthcare facilities.

No GOP lawmakers were included in the discussions Saturday.

“We are still a long ways apart,” Meadows said. “There are still substantial differences but we are making good progress.”

Meadows also said McConnell “has made it very clear liability will be included in any bill that gets passed and we support that decision.”

The staff will continue working Sunday and the top negotiators will resume talks Monday.

“We will be back here everyday until we solve this,” Mnuchin said. Mnuchin said the two sides are still at odds over the need to pass a quick short term extension of unemployment benefits, which Pelosi is resisting to secure the bigger deal.

“We've made clear we are willing to deal with the short term issues and come back and work on larger issues so we are at an impasse on that,” Mnuchin said.

“There are things we agree on and things we don't agree on, we are trying to narrow down what we don't agree on,” Mnuchin said.

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