GOP, Democrats report progress on relief package talks

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows right and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol to resume talks on a COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday Aug. 1 2020

As part of the 2.2-trillion-U.S. -dollar coronavirus relief bill passed in late March, Congress agreed to provide 600 dollars in federal unemployment benefits per person per week on top of state unemployment benefits.

"We anticipate that we will have a bill, but we're not there yet", said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Saturday after discussions with the GOP leaders and White House officials.

"We're still a long ways apart and I don't want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not".

"We will be close to an agreement when we have an agreement", Pelosi said Sunday.

Meadows, however, is understaffed during the talks and seems to struggle with his read on Pelosi.

A payroll tax holiday was one of Trump's initial demands, but the idea had nearly no support from lawmakers in both parties and was quickly dropped in the talks.

"We must defeat this virus and that is one of the points that we still have not come to any agreement on", Pelosi said on ABC.

It was a change of tone from Friday, when Meadows and Pelosi exchanged public criticism about who was to blame for the expiration of the federal unemployment benefits at a time of enhanced economic uncertainty.

Pelosi mentioned food aid and funding for voting by mail after the negotiating session was over. "Now each side knows where they're at", Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the meeting.

Mnuchin declined to say if they had made any progress toward a compromise on unemployment benefits, state and local aid, or liability, which he had previously pointed to as major sticking points. "There are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress". Meadows had made several offers to Democrats on enhanced unemployment benefits.

"More than ten weeks ago, we passed the Heroes Act, which had a path to containing this virus with testing, tracing, treatment, mask wearing, sanitation".

"There's still a lot of open issues", Mnuchin said.

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But Democrats have rejected the piecemeal approach, wanting one large bill that addresses all of the issues as part of the next coronavirus relief deal. "So we're at an impasse on that".

The two sides are also divided on the size of the package. More than 154,000 Americans have died as of Saturday, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. "And we are going to work very hard to come to an agreement that meets the needs of the moment, we still believe and we discuss this with them". "This is not a usual discussion, because the urgency is so great".

But the terms and structure of the unemployment benefit remains a huge sticking point, negotiators said Sunday, and Meadows hasn't made any concessions on the nearly $1 trillion Pelosi wants for state and local governments grappling with pandemic-related revenue losses.

- The Democratic-led House of Representatives proposed their version of the relief bill in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not make a counterproposal until last week.

"This is a very different kind of negotiation, because of what is at stake".

In the unlikely event of no extension at all, a loss of the full $600 benefit would be the equivalent of erasing the average wage income of over 15 million Americans, or knocking out much of the expected 20% rebound in consumer spending in the third quarter, based on calculations by Bloomberg Economics.

McConnell was home in Kentucky on Saturday and did not participate in the negotiations, which he's largely left to administration officials.

Schumer said that they are not yet done finalizing the details of the next stimulus.

Democrats want to preserve the $600 amount, while Republicans want to cut it to $200 due to cost concerns. The White House quickly abandoned it and began pushing for some kind of short-term fix for the unemployment benefits.

McConnell set up votes next week on Republican proposals to extend the lapsed supplemental unemployment insurance. Democrats want the next package to continue the $600 weekly payments, but Republicans are concerned that in some cases this results in people collecting more money than they earned from their jobs, disincentivizing them to return to work when possible.

"I guess we would also characterize the discussions as the most productive we've had to date", said Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

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