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No deal: Coronavirus relief talks on Capitol Hill falter as benefits expire

The two sides did not plan to meet in person Friday, but were scheduled to meet in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office Saturday morning, aides said.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference at the Capitol on July 31, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Negotiations between top Democrats and the Trump administration on a coronavirus relief package have hit a standstill, guaranteeing that millions of people will lose critical unemployment benefits Friday — with no clear path ahead for a new aid package.

The negotiations were in a tenuous place, as the administration and the Democrats remained miles apart on a litany of issues. Further complicating the talks: Senate Republicans were not in agreement with the White House on the core issues of liability protection and an evictions moratorium.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offered to extend the $600-per-week federal benefit in unemployment insurance for one additional week, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., rejected the offer late Thursday night, saying that a temporary patch would be useless unless the negotiations were mostly complete.

“Let's say that the path that they have taken us down with their delay, their denial, their distortions have caused death — speaking alliteratively — has caused deaths unnecessarily,” Pelosi told reporters Friday.

The dialed-up attacks as the Senate and the House left town for the weekend served as a clear signal that the negotiations on Capitol Hill — where progress behind closed doors typically leads to at least a temporary pause in public antagonism among party leaders — would instead be a drawn-out process.

Pelosi and Schumer continued to tout the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May. The administration entered into negotiations with the Democrats this week after Senate Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion relief bill — a proposal that still lacks significant support within their own ranks.

“I think they understand that we have to have a bill, but they just don't realize how big it has to be,” Pelosi said.

The two sides did not plan to meet in person Friday, but were scheduled to meet in Pelosi’s office Saturday morning, aides said.

“The Democrats have made zero offers in three days. That’s not what a compromise is about,” Meadows told NBC News in a phone interview.

The expiration of the $600-per-week bonus stood to cause weekly unemployment payments to fall by almost two-thirds across the country. Average weekly state unemployment benefits in the United States are about $340, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor.

But some states will suffer more than others. In Florida, where COVID-19 infections have been soaring, the average weekly benefit stood to fall from $850 to about $250. In Oklahoma, the average weekly benefit would plummet from $644 to $44, a staggering 93 percent drop. In Massachusetts, which has some of the most generous jobless benefits of any state, the average unemployment payments per week were to fall from $1,045 to about $445.

The two parties still disagreed on a number of issues, including from what amount and for how long to expand the federal benefit, funding for food assistance, and money for states and localities.

Meanwhile, divisions between the Senate Republicans and the administration continued to deepen. The administration signaled Friday that liability protection, a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was not a critical goal.

“That’s a question for Mitch McConnell,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday. “That’s his priority.”

McEnany added that the president was “keenly focused” on jobless benefits, an issue that has divided the Senate Republican conference. The Hill GOP offered a $200-a-week benefit in their bill, drawing criticism from some GOP senators who said that the lower figure was too much and that there should be no federal extension of the program whatsoever.

The president also called this week for an extension of the moratorium on evictions, which is set to expire as August rents come due, although Meadows has not said whether the White House believes all renters should be covered or just some. Democrats support a broad evictions ban, but Senate Republicans excluded it from their bill.

Despite previously floating the idea of an executive order to address an evictions moratorium, the president has no plans to do so, Meadows said.

“There’s no plans for the president taking executive action today on any option. He’s hopeful the Democrats will see how many unemployed Americans they are hurting by their negotiating tactics,” he said.

Rent comes due for many Americans this weekend, with about 23 million saying they had little or no confidence in their ability to make their next rent payment, according to census data last month analyzed by The Wall Street Journal.

The latest talks have left the negotiators frustrated and pessimistic about the path forward to a deal. The House was supposed to adjourn for its annual August recess Friday, but members have been told to stay on standby, with the possibility that they may be given 24 hours notice to return should a deal be reached.

The Senate is in session for at least another week, a timeline that could be extended if progress isn’t made. McConnell declined to say Tuesday when asked whether he planned to keep the chamber in session after next week if no deal were to be reached.

“We'll keep you posted,” he said.