- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

President Trump said Tuesday that negotiators will “take care” of people whose $600-a-week unemployment benefits expire this week, as the White House sought common ground with Democratic leaders on another trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package and conservatives braced for the president to pile on more election-year spending to record deficits with help mostly from Democrats.

“We’re going to do something,” Mr. Trump said of the expanded jobless benefits that expire Friday. “We’re going to take care of the people.”

The White House is backing a Senate Republican proposal that would reduce the benefits to $200 for two months before switching to a formula with states that would give workers about 70% of their lost wages. The president said he doesn’t like certain aspects of the plan.

“We’ll be negotiating. It’s sort of semi-irrelevant because the Democrats come with their needs and their asks,” Mr. Trump said.

Democrats are pushing to keep the $600 benefit through the end of the year.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer again Tuesday, said the White House wants “to get the important components passed.”

“We’ve talked about liability [protections], enhanced unemployment [benefits], schools,” he said.

But Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of trying to sabotage a deal with his insistence on including liability protections for businesses and others reopening during the pandemic.

Mr. Schumer, of New York, said Mr. McConnell “sounds like a person who has no interest in getting an agreement.”

Roughly half of the Senate’s 53 Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are expected to vote against any rescue package, citing a budget deficit that has already hit $2.7 trillion in the first nine months of the fiscal year. Mr. Cruz said lawmakers are “wasting time negotiating another massive spending bill that does not solve the problems facing the American people.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and a deficit hawk, said the country is “trillions of dollars in debt.”

“Is this what Republicans stand for?” he asked.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said if Mr. McConnell can get half of Senate Republicans to vote for the bill, “that’d be quite an accomplishment.”

“You can see a bunch of people already pushing back that we haven’t spent phase three yet, and concerns about the deficit. I get all that,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. McConnell, who insisted Tuesday that there won’t be a deal without liability protections for reopening during the pandemic, acknowledged that the Senate GOP is divided.

“I think it’s a statement of the obvious that I have members who are all over the lot,” he told reporters.

As the talks continue, conservative groups increasingly are warning the president of the economic and political consequences of adding at least $1 trillion to this year’s deficit. Club for Growth President David McIntosh said the Republican proposal “irresponsibly spends on an amended extension of the expanded unemployment insurance benefit and another round of stimulus checks.”

“It’s unfortunate that McConnell caved to Speaker Pelosi and her socialist special interests before negotiations have even begun,” Mr. McIntosh said.

He said it is “not too late for President Trump to save the day for American families and students by demanding” parental choice education grants of up to $10,000 per student that could be used in private or religious schools and for home schooling. He said the president should make the proposal a “red line” in negotiations.

Adam Brandon, president of the conservative group FreedomWorks, said Tuesday that Congress has already passed four bills in response to COVID-19 at a cost of $2.4 trillion. He said his group will oppose the GOP bill if it comes to the Senate floor for a vote.

“The result of this spending and the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic is a budget deficit as a percentage of GDP not seen since the end of World War II,” Mr. Brandon said.

Deficits have risen dramatically under Mr. Trump, who has received consistent support from Democrats in his high-spending ways.

In the House, 76 lawmakers have voted for every piece of legislation that spends money and has been signed into law by Mr. Trump in the past four years. Sixty-nine of those 76 lawmakers are Democrats, according to an analysis by Jonathan Bydlak, director of the fiscal and budget policy project at the nonprofit R Street Institute think tank.

In the Senate, 39 of the 100 senators have voted for all the spending that Mr. Trump has signed into law — 23 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

Both the Democratic and Republican plans include another round of direct payments of $1,200 to most Americans. Democrats would add nearly $1 trillion in aid to states and cities whose budgets have been hit hard by the response to the pandemic.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer criticized the GOP’s coronavirus relief proposal as “inadequate” Tuesday, but hinted there could be room for compromise on how Congress handles the boosted unemployment benefits.

“It’s not $600 or bust,” the Maryland Democrat said on CNN. “We don’t have red lines, we have values and we’re going into these negotiations with values. To say $600 or nothing, no, that’s not where we are. But we’re also not prepared to let down the American people.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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