Negotiations launched, a gulf remains between Democrats’ $3 trillion coronavirus relief proposal and Republicans’ $1 trillion counteroffer.
It’s unclear whether any agreement can be reached between Congress and President Donald Trump before Friday’s deadline for expiring aid.
“We cannot afford to fail,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as the chamber opened on Tuesday.
Key to the debate is the expiring $600 weekly unemployment benefit. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week as an incentive to get people back to work. Democrats are refusing to go that low.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is defending cuts to unemployment assistance, saying Democrats “pretend it’s controversial.”
Republicans, he said, believe people should not be paid more while they are at home than they would if they were on the job.
“The American people don’t call that a controversy, they call that common sense,” he said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dismissed the GOP’s proposal as “wrong,” and Schumer responded by waving a copy of a New York newspaper on the Senate floor with the headline: “Let them eat cake.”
Both parties are eager for a deal. There is widespread agreement that more money is needed for virus testing, to help schools prepare to open in the fall and to shore up small businesses, but they are far apart on the details.
Republicans seek $16 billion for virus testing, but Democrats want $75 billion.
For school reopenings, Democrats want four times the $105 billion Republicans propose.
Republicans propose no new funding for states and cities, preferring to provide flexibility in how they spend previously approved aid.
Democrats propose to give out nearly $1 trillion to avert municipal layoffs of government workers.
One area of common ground is agreement on a new round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans earning $75,000 or less.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will return to Capitol Hill after meeting for nearly two hours late Monday with Pelosi and Schumer at the speaker’s office.
As McConnell unveiled his long-awaited proposal on Monday, conservative Republicans broke ranks, arguing the spending was too much and priorities misplaced.
Half the Republican senators could vote against the bill, some warned.
“He has all the Democrats on his side,” Sen. Rand Paul said of the Republican leader.
As bipartisan talks unfold, the White House is now suggesting that a narrower relief package may be all that’s possible with Friday’s approaching deadlines.
The $600 weekly jobless benefits boost, approved as part of the March aid package, officially expires July 31, but because of the way states process unemployment payments, the cutoff was effectively Saturday.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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