- The Washington Times
Sunday, August 2, 2020

Both Democrats and Republicans want to pass another coronavirus relief package, but neither side is optimistic about it happening any time soon.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that recent negotiations have been productive, but warned that after four days, “we still have a long ways to go.”

“Yesterday was a step in the right direction,” Mr. Meadows said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Our staffs are actually working today. We’ll be meeting again tomorrow, but I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also made no promises about when a deal might be reached, saying, “Well, the fact is, it will be close to an agreement when we have an agreement.”

The haggling comes with Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, pointing to a “new phase” in the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus spreading into rural and Midwestern communities after concentrating early on in urban hot spots.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” Dr. Birx said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal [as in] urban areas.”

She also said “we are beginning to see an impact from the mitigation procedures that many of the state and local officials have put into place,” urging people to wear masks, wash their hands, and follow social distancing recommendations.

One sticking point in the negotiations over enhanced benefits driven by the coronavirus: Republicans want to ensure that the fourth phase of the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis helps the unemployed regain their financial footing without reducing their incentives to seek work.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Sunday that some Americans were paid more money to stay home than to work, saying that “we want to fix the issue where in some cases people are overpaid, and we want to make sure there’s the right incentives.”

“There’s no question in certain cases where we’re paying people more to stay home than to work, that’s created issues in the entire economy,” Mr. Mnuchin said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He once again urged Democrats to agree to a one-week extension of benefits, which expired Friday, saying that he and Mr. Meadows had made several offers to Democrats on enhanced unemployment benefits.

“The president is very concerned about the expiration of the unemployment insurance,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “We proposed a one-week extension of the $600, and I’m surprised that the Democrats won’t agree to that. They are insistent on having this as part of a larger deal.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Pelosi continued to insist that the extension of benefits should be part of the massive $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House, which includes another round of checks as well as financial relief to state and local governments.

She blasted a Senate proposal to reduce the weekly benefit to $200, and also disputed the idea that some people receiving the $600 weekly unemployment checks are opting to remain out of work rather than take jobs at which they earn less than that.

“Oh, they say, ‘Oh, people are staying home’ — the data doesn’t support that,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Yes, they might anecdotally have examples, but the fact is that they’re subjecting somebody who gets $600 to scrutiny they won’t subject some of the people that are getting millions of dollars in the [Paycheck Protection Program].”

The two sides met Saturday to negotiate over resuming the emergency unemployment benefits to 30 million out-of-work Americans, which Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer described as “the best discussion we’ve had so far.”

“The issue is, we need to come up with an agreement to extend this,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “We need to get kids into school. And we’re going to work every day until we reach a reasonable agreement that’s good for the American public.”

If Americans want to speed up an agreement, “I say to them, ‘Talk to President Trump.’ He’s the one who is standing in the way of that,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

“We have been for the $600. They have a $200 proposal, which does not meet the needs of America’s working families,” she said.

Mr. Meadows disagreed.

“If you have people that have lost their enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators and House members because they’re the ones that are standing in the way of having those extended,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.