USA

White House, Democrats continue talks on coronavirus bill amid impasse

Washington — After a weekend of talks on a coronavirus relief package failed to yield a deal, White House officials and Democratic leaders are expected to meet again Monday to continue negotiations on a measure to address the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The continued talks on a deal, however, come as the Trump administration's negotiators acknowledge the White House and congressional Democrats remain far apart on what will be the fourth phase of the federal response to the coronavirus crisis.

"I'm not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday in an interview on "Face the Nation."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, echoed the grim forecast for imminent consensus, telling reporters Sunday that "there are significant divisions that remain."

"There are lots of things that we're still divided on and we're not close to an agreement yet," he said, "but we are making progress and I'm hopeful that we can get to an agreement."

A key area of divide between Republicans and Democrats is the extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, which expired at the end of July, leaving roughly 30 million Americans without an extra $600 per week in jobless assistance.

Democrats are urging their Republican colleagues to take up a sweeping $3 trillion package passed by the House in May, which addressed economic and health care issues caused by the pandemic and extended the full enhanced unemployment benefits. But the package was a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Senate, and GOP lawmakers believe the supplemental $600 per week disincentivizes jobless Americans from returning to work. 

Instead, Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are spearheading negotiations for the White House, are pushing for a targeted measure that addresses the lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions in federally backed housing, which also expired last month.

Meadows told CBS News on Monday that the White House's goal is specifically focused on reaching an agreement on unemployment benefits and eviction relief. But Democratic leaders have poured cold water on a short-term deal and instead favor a broad measure that tackles an array of issues stemming from the coronavirus crisis.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, told reporters last week that the White House is looking to extend the suspension of student loan payments "for additional periods of time."

While Meadows and Mnuchin are serving as the chief emissaries for the White House, Meadows said Mr. Trump is actively involved in the discussions and in frequent communication with advisers.

In addition to disagreement on how to reinstate the expired jobless benefits and at what level, Republicans and Democrats are also at odds on the cost of the next legislative package. GOP senators have balked at the $3 trillion price tag of the Democrats' bill and last week unveiled a $1 trillion measure that lessened the added unemployment benefits and omitted several priorities pushed by their Democratic colleagues, including assistance for state and local governments.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that Democrats are united in their support for the $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits and said Republicans are "in disarray."

"We're saying three things: support our state and local heroes, strategic big plan to end the virus, and third, put money in the pockets of America's working families, and we do that," Pelosi said in an interview with ABC News' "This Week." "And we have other issues that relate to food that are contentious."

While the House canceled its August recess and will remain in session until a deal on the next coronavirus relief package is reached, the Senate is still scheduled to leave for its month-long break at the end of the week.

Paula Reid contributed to this report.

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