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Virus Aid Talks on Brink of Collapse   08/07 06:09

   Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money are teetering on the brink 
of collapse after a marathon meeting in the Capitol generated lots of 
recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money are 
teetering on the brink of collapse after a marathon meeting in the Capitol 
generated lots of recriminations but little progress on the top issues 
confronting negotiators.

   "There's a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart" on, 
said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He talked of impasses on aid to states 
and local governments and renewing supplemental unemployment benefits in the 
Thursday night meetings.

   Both sides said the future of the talks is uncertain. President Donald Trump 
is considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment 
insurance, but they appear unlikely to have much impact.

   A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help 
reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people and 
hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them 
avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer 
of New York emerged to give a pessimistic update about the chances for an 
agreement.

   "We're very far apart. It's most unfortunate," Pelosi said.

   Both sides have adopted a hard line in the talks, though the Trump team is 
more open in disclosing a handful of its proposed compromises. Republicans were 
late to agree to the talks and have become frustrated by the inflexible tactics 
of Pelosi and Schumer, who have been exuding confidence in a political and 
legislative landscape that's tilted in their favor.

   The Democratic pair say the federal coronavirus aid package needs to be huge 
to meet the moment: a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness and 
the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

   "We believe the patient needs a major operation while Republicans want to 
apply just a Band-Aid," Schumer said. "We won't let them just pass the 
Band-Aid, go home and leave America bleeding."

   Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of McConnell's rank 
and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response 
bills totaling almost $3 trillion have passed on bipartisan votes despite 
intense wrangling. But Trump and McConnell want a bill and discussed the topic 
at the White House on Thursday morning.

   The White House is also promising that Trump will attempt to use executive 
orders to address elements of the congressional package involving evictions and 
jobless benefits. But there's no evidence that the strategy would have much 
impact or be anything close to what's necessary, and Pelosi appeared 
unimpressed at a morning news conference.

   "I don't think they know what they're talking about," Pelosi said 
dismissively.

   Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed 
$600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance 
and reiterated their demand for food stamps and assistance to renters and 
homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

   "Don't nickel and dime our children," Pelosi said. "Don't say, 'We want to 
give a tax break to a business lunch and not give more money for children to 
have food stamps.'"

   Pelosi was referring to a GOP proposal to increase the deduction for 
business meals from 50% to 100%. The idea seems likely to die, along with 
Trump's efforts to cut the Social Security payroll tax. But Schumer and Pelosi 
continue to push to restore a tax break for state and local taxes paid mostly 
by wealthier people with high incomes and valuable homes.

   McConnell, R-Ky., is likely to have to assume a higher profile if the talks 
are to come to a successful close, but he issued a grim assessment of the 
situation Thursday, again complaining that Pelosi and Schumer are not 
negotiating in good faith.

   "Day after day, they've stonewalled the president's team. Day by day, 
they've tried to invent new euphemisms to create the illusion of progress," 
McConnell said Thursday.

   Frustration was palpable among Republican senators shuttling in and out of a 
GOP lunch session, some of whom say Schumer is intent on using the situation as 
a hammer against Republicans. Schumer is desperate to win the Senate majority 
just as Republicans are in trying to hold on in a terrible political year.

   "As long as they calculate that they're better off politically doing 
nothing, it's going to be hard for us to move forward," said Sen. Marco Rubio, 
R-Fla. "And that's the calculation they've made, it appears."

   McConnell is sending the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators 
to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won't 
come until late next week or even after. Progress has been scant in the talks 
despite more than a week of negotiation.

   White House negotiators made some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to 
state and local governments in a Tuesday session --- and then promptly got 
scalded by Republicans after details leaked out.

 
 
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