- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2020

White House negotiators and congressional Democrats reported no progress Wednesday in talks for a new round of coronavirus relief, with Democratic leaders rejecting President Trump’s offer of a short-term deal to extend federal unemployment benefits set to expire Friday.

“We are not accepting that,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after an hour-long meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. She said Democrats want a “comprehensive bill.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said Democrats won’t accept an agreement dealing only with unemployment benefits because “there are so many problems that are immediate and urgent.”

Mr. Meadows told reporters, “we’re nowhere close to a deal.”

Asked what could break the impasse, Mr. Meadows replied, “I don’t know that anything will.”

The president and Mr. Mnuchin on Wednesday called for a short-term coronavirus relief bill to extend unemployment benefits and prevent housing evictions.

“We’re focused on those two things, we want to take care of them now,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “The rest we can discuss later.”

The impasse on even a short-term deal reflected the wider gulf between the White House and Democrats on a more comprehensive aid package to help workers, businesses, schools and communities struggling with the pandemic.

Democrats want to spend more than $3 trillion, including an extension of $600-per-week federal unemployment benefits and nearly $1 trillion in aid to states and cities. Senate Republicans’ plan, backed by the White House, calls for lowering unemployment benefits to $200 per week temporarily as part of an overall $1 trillion package that includes about $100 billion for schools.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it will keep interest rates near zero over the “medium term” until the central bank is assured that the economy is on track again to regain maximum employment.

Defeating the virus is key to recovering from the “most severe economic downturn in our lifetime,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell said Wednesday.

“The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain, and will depend in large part on our success in keeping the virus in check,” he told reporters. “Indeed, we have seen some signs in recent weeks that the increase in virus cases, and the renewed measures to control it, are starting to weigh on economic activity.”

The president criticized Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer for seeking a package that includes “big bailout money for Democrats that ran cities terribly.”

“They’ve taxed them too much and they’ve run them poorly, and we don’t like that,” Mr. Trump said. “What the Democrats want are bailout funds, and we want to take care of people.”

Mr. Mnuchin said negotiators are “very far apart” in discussions that started Monday.

The president said Democrats “aren’t taking care of the people.”

“The payments aren’t enough,” Mr. Trump said, apparently referring to another round of proposed direct payments to most Americans of $1,200. “The rest of it, we’re so far apart we don’t care. We really don’t care. We want to take care of the people. The payments aren’t enough. They’re not making the payments; they’re not making them high enough.”

The Republican plan backed by the White House would cut current $600 weekly federal jobless benefits to $200 for two months. Democrats want to extend the $600 benefits through the end of the year.

“In the meantime, we ought to stop the evictions,” Mr. Trump said.

A federal moratorium on housing evictions is expiring also.

Unemployed workers have been receiving an extra $600 a week from the federal government since late March to supplement state jobless aid. The Senate GOP plan would cut that amount to $200 a week until October.

After that, states would shift to a system in which combined state and federal benefits would replace 70% of a worker’s previous pay. Republicans want to cap the federal portion at $500 a week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that Democrats were not negotiating in good faith over the fifth round of coronavirus relief legislation for political reasons during an election year.

The Kentucky Republican recalled Democrats blocking the Senate GOP police-reform legislation in June following the death of George Floyd, a Black man at the hands of a White police officer on Memorial Day that had sparked Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.

“When it’s time to actually make a law, Democrats would rather keep political issues alive than find a bipartisan way to resolve them,” the majority leader said.

Democrats are seeking nearly $1 trillion in aid to states and cities. The president said Democratic-controlled cities shouldn’t be “rewarded” for mismanagement.

“We should reward most of this country that’s well-run,” Mr. Trump said. “You’re watching a Portland, and watching Seattle, you’re watching New York, where they had a 400% increase in crime… Most of the country is very well-run, and Republican cities are very well run. And it’s a shame to reward badly, radical left Democrats with all of this money that they’re looking for, for cities, to throw it away on cities that are poorly run.”

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