Democrats and Republicans remain divided over unemployment benefits but report some progress in relief talks

Democrats and Republicans remain divided over unemployment benefits but report some progress in relief talks
Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Wednesday that he supported the renewal of unemployment benefits but also doesn’t want the benefits to discourage people from going back to work.

“We want to get funds to people so they can live. But we don’t want to disincentive those people from going back to work,” Trump said.

His position is echoed by many Republicans but is opposed by Democrats who want to extend the US$600 per week unemployment benefits for 30 million Americans. The lack of an agreement on the issue between the two sides has been a major obstacle in talks.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a US$1 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that would have extended unemployment benefits by only US$200 per week.

However, the bill has not attracted the support of many Senate Republicans which means that negotiations are ongoing. McConnell’s bill has also not received Trump’s endorsement.

During his weekly Senate Republican leadership news conference on Tuesday, McConnell said that he would support an extension of the now expired unemployment benefits as long as they were backed by Trump.

“Wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team, who has to sign it into law, and the Democrat, not insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House, is something I’m prepared to support. Even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”

Democratic leaders met with the Trump administration on Tuesday to continue negotiations. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have also proposed reducing the unemployment benefits to US$400 per week through November.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer remained firm on US$600 per week unemployment benefits.

Although multiple issues still remain unsolved between the two parties and in the White House, Schumer told reporters after the meeting that “we’re making progress.”

“We really went down issue by issue by issue, slogging through them. They made some concessions, which we appreciated. We made some concessions, which they appreciated. We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues, but we’re continuing to go at it.”

The four officials have been meeting almost daily and will meet again on Wednesday to continue negotiations.

On Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he would take unilateral action to extend the moratorium on evictions if Congress is unable to reach an agreement over the relief bill.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats support a payroll tax cut. However, they remain mired in disagreement over the moratorium on evictions.

In their meeting with Democrats on Tuesday, White House officials proposed extending the moratorium on evictions until the end of December. However, Democrats rejected the offer, saying it didn’t provide any financial assistance to renters and landlords.

The two parties also disagree over whether to extend financial aid to state and local governments. Democrats want about US$1 trillion in aid allocated to state and local governments that are seeing a decline in tax revenue and facing the threat of mass layoffs.

However, Trump expressed opposition to the aid in his interview with Fox News on Wednesday, stating that Democrats want to “bailout” states that suffer from poor management. Whether a compromise can be reached between the two parties remains to be seen.

Democrats want to reach an agreement by the end of this week so the bill can be passed by Congress next week. Whether an agreement will be possible by then remains to be seen.

“We have moved closer together on five or six issues,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday after the negotiations meeting with White House. “There are many more to go, and we’re not even in agreement on those five or six, but at least [Mnuchin and Meadows are] understanding the needs here.”

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