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Negotiators fail to agree on COVID-19 relief as Congress adjourns

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July 31 (UPI) — Congress adjourned for the weekend Friday without coming to an agreement on a new coronavirus relief bill as key stimulus benefits expired.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows resumed talks earlier in the day, but failed to agree on a deal. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was not part of the negotiations, as he agreed to let President Donald Trump’s deputies represent the Senate proposals.

Meadows criticized Democrats for rejecting Trump’s proposal of a short-term stopgap measure to extend key elements of previous relief bills — a $600-per-week unemployment enhancement and eviction protections.

“What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats up on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said. “The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”

Pelosi said such stopgap measures are only useful for a short-term extension when two sides are close to an agreement.

“A week would be a time for that — if we had a bill. What are we going to do in a week?” she asked. “They don’t even have the votes for it in the Senate.”

One of the main focuses of the legislation is an enhanced federal unemployment benefit that had paid out-of-work Americans an extra $600 each week, which was part of the first relief package, the CARES Act, in March.

The federal benefit ran out last week but officially expired Friday.

Before talks broke down late Thursday, lawmakers on both sides unsuccessfully attempted to pass their own proposals to extend the benefit and other measures.

Giving a greater sense of urgency to the negotiations were two government reports earlier Thursday that illustrated the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commerce Department said the U.S. economy saw its worst second-quarter performance in history, and the Labor Department reported that unemployment filings had increased for the second week in a row.

Part of the impasse is that the Senate proposal is separated into different measures, while the House’s is contained in one single bill. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi, D-Calif., have consistently opposed this approach.

“We just don’t think they understand the gravity of the problem,” Schumer said of the Republican negotiators.

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

Said Mnuchin: “We made a proposal for a short-term deal. And as of now they’ve repeated they don’t want to do that.”

The Senate attempted to pass its unemployment extension bill, which offers to match two-thirds of a previous wage from combined state and federal sources. Schumer rejected it and introduced the House’s $3 trillion package, which was similarly blocked by Republicans.

“The bottom line is this is the most serious health problem and economic problem we’ve had in a century and 75 years and it takes really, good, strong bold action,” Schumer added. “They don’t quite get that.”

“We are working around the clock to see if we can reach an agreement that’s good for the American people,” Mnuchin said.

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