Congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials resumed talks aimed at hammering out a coronavirus relief bill on Monday, after missing a vital deadline to extend relief benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.
Top Democrats in Congress and top representatives of President Donald Trump met in the US Capitol following weekend reports of progress. But the two sides remained far apart, with top Republican lawmakers on the sidelines of the negotiations.
After passing more than $3 trillion in relief legislation early in the crisis, Congress last week missed a Friday deadline to extend the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment payments that have played a key role in propping up the US economy.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have taken the lead in talks, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week unveiled a $1 trillion Republican proposal that met immediate resistance from some of his fellow Senate Republicans.
Mnuchin declined comment as he entered Pelosi's office. Meadows, asked about expectations for the meeting, told reporters: "None yet."
The extension of enhanced federal unemployment benefits has proved to be a major stumbling block in the talks, and a top Federal Reserve official warned that failure to secure some form of extension would result in a weaker economy.
McConnell is also demanding that comprehensive legislation include protection against COVID-related lawsuits for businesses, schools and churches. But Democrats have rejected the idea, and a source familiar with the negotiations said last week the White House had indicated it could go along with a bill that did not include the liability measure.
Hours before the talks were due to resume, Pelosi made it clear she would not go along with Republican proposals to slash the weekly $600 unemployment benefit.
"No," Pelosi told CNN. "You're not saying to the American people: We have more infections, we have more deaths, we have more unemployment, we have more hunger and now we're going to cut your benefit. That's just not going to happen."
Trump wants to see immediate progress on extending unemployment benefits and protections against eviction, White House adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News. The administration is also considering options for possible unilateral actions if no relief deal is reached, the Washington Post reported.
The White House and congressional Republicans want to trim the weekly jobless aid, and have rejected as too costly the state and local assistance package that was included in legislation passed by the Democratic-led House in May.
Republicans favoring a reduction in the unemployment aid have said it is a disincentive for people to work.
However, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Monday that economic data does not show the $600-a-week benefit hurts the overall job market.
"While it may have made it hard for certain individual businesses to hire, it has helped create jobs, because it has helped bolster consumer spending, so the net effect still has probably been positive for the economy for employment," Kaplan told Bloomberg TV.
In an Aug. 3 letter, business executives called on top Democrats and Republicans in Congress to provide federally guaranteed loans stretching well into 2021, saying the financing should be at least partially forgivable for the hardest-hit businesses.
There are some areas where lawmakers and the Trump administration may be able to come together quickly.
Both Republicans and Democrats want to renew a moratorium on evictions, which had spared Americans the stress of being left homeless while out of work because of the pandemic. The moratorium expired on July 24.
Likewise, there is broad support for another round of direct payments to taxpayers.Democrats are also continuing to press for about $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments.