WASHINGTON - White House officials and top congressional Democrats are set to resume talks Monday about a new coronavirus relief package, including help for the millions of people who are unemployed.
The talks come days after the expiration of $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits that were part of an earlier coronavirus aid effort.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met Saturday to try to break a stalemate that has emerged between Democrats and Republicans about the timing and size of unemployment benefits, as the country deals with a new surge in coronavirus infections that began in June.
Pelosi and other Democrats want to extend the payments through the end of 2020, while President Donald Trump and his administration initially want to cut the extra aid to $200 a week while working toward a package that would set the aid at 70% of what a worker had been paid before being laid off.
Meadows told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” show Sunday, “We still have a long ways to go. I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”
The two sides remain far apart on the size of an overall coronavirus assistance package, with Democrats calling for $3 trillion in new spending and Republicans wanting to limit it to $1 trillion.
Pelosi and Mnuchin disagreements quickly became apparent in back-to-back interviews on the ABC talk show “This Week.”
“Overwhelmingly this is about keeping people out of poverty,” Pelosi said.
“The $600 is essential,” she said. “This is about putting workers first, putting money in the pockets of American workers.”
She did not, however, rule out the possibility of settling on a smaller continuing aid figure, but criticized some Republican lawmakers “who don’t want [to approve] anything.” She said the new assistance should be tied to unemployment rate.
She downplayed complaints by Republicans that some unemployed workers have collected more in jobless benefits than they were paid while working.
Mnuchin said Trump “is very concerned about the expiration” of the benefits” and “wants to spend what we need to.”
But Mnuchin said he was surprised Democrats have spurned a White House offer to extend the $600-a-week federal benefits for a week while talks continue.
He said the continuing benefits “should be tied to some percentage of wages.”
Mnuchin said “there’s no question some people were paid more to stay home than to work,” an outcome Republicans are determined to end.
He said the virus has “devastated our economy.” Mnuchin said last week’s report that the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, fell 9.5% from April to June, the most in records dating back seven decades, was not surprising.
He expressed optimism for the future, however.
“I think we’re going to see a very big bounce back,” especially in 2021, he said.