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Meadows Says Democrats Rebuffed White House on Stopgap Jobless Aid

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Extra aid for as many as 30 million jobless Americans has run out with Democrats and Republicans still far from any deal that would extend unemployment insurance or provide any other boost for an economy sagging under the weight of pandemic-induced shutdowns.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to continue negotiations Saturday with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The gathering will be without staff, to promote a more candid conversation, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Democrats have rebuffed proposals from the Trump administration to extend lapsing supplemental unemployment benefits, at least temporarily, saying the two sides need to get closer to agreement on the rest of a virus relief package. That may not happen soon.

“We are light years apart,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday on WHAS radio in his home state of Kentucky.

A White House official said there are about a dozen issues that have to be resolved for any final deal. The most pressing one in the talks now is about extra federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week that ran out as of Friday, leaving millions of out-of-work Americans without an additional safety net at a time when the jobs market is still depressed. In addition, a moratorium on evictions expired July 24.

Both the unemployment aid and the eviction moratorium were part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus plan passed in March, when many officials in Washington expected the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would be waning by summer.

Pelosi made clear after negotiations late Thursday that Democrats would only support a very short-term extension of unemployment benefits if it were used to allow time to finish a bipartisan, broad-based deal that appeared imminent.

“The one-week extension is good if you have a bill and you’re working it out,” she said. “It’s worthless unless you are using it for a purpose.”

Meadows said he and Mnuchin “made no less than four different offers” on unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions, though he didn’t give details. “They’ve not even been countered with a proposal,” he said of the Democrats.

President Donald Trump on Friday weighed in with a Twitter barrage aimed at Pelosi and Schumer, accusing them of holding up extra unemployment aid as well as direct payments to individuals that both sides want in a broader package.

But Pelosi said that Republicans were at fault for waiting to come up with their own virus-relief proposal until the start of this week, even though the House passed the Democrats’ plan two months ago.

“The Republicans said they wanted to take a pause. Well, the virus didn’t,” she said. “Clearly they, and perhaps the White House, do not understand the gravity of the situation.”

Republicans want to cut the benefit in the next stimulus package to a portion of lost wages, but Democrats have proposed keeping it at the current level.

McConnell set up votes next week on Republican proposals to extend the lapsed supplemental unemployment insurance.

The GOP gambit is almost certain to fail because McConnell would need Democratic votes to pass any legislation. But it will give Senate Republicans a chance to go on the record as saying they tried to act.

The two sides have to bridge significant differences between the $1 trillion stimulus plan the GOP released Monday and the $3.5 trillion package that House Democrats passed in May.

The biggest roadblocks remained McConnell’s plan to shield employers against lawsuits stemming from Covid-19 infections, and Democrats’ drive to maintain the $600-a-week supplemental unemployment payments and provide $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments.

Meadows said the White House doesn’t have a strong position on the liability protections, but McConnell has insisted it must be part of any legislation. “We support him in that decision,” Meadows said.

McConnell reinforced his red line on liability protections being in any bill in the radio interview. He said the White House won’t be making any deals without it and that he is in the loop even if not in the room.

“Ultimately if we get a deal, I’ll be the one to put it on the floor of the Senate and I can assure you it will have liability protection in it,” he said. “There was some rumor they are prepared to negotiate it away. That is not going to happen”

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