Aid negotiations stall over unrelated COVID provisions

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WASHINGTON — Negotiations over a new virus relief package have all but ended, with the White House and congressional leaders far aparton the size, scope and approach for shoring up households, re-opening schools and launching a national strategy to contain the virus.

President Donald Trump’s top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, tried to revive stalled talks Wednesday, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer dismissed Munichin saying the Trump administration is still refusing to meet them halfway.

The initial House bill would have cost $3.45 trillion and the administration proposal was for $1 trillion but splitting the difference in cost would have not addressed many unacceptable non-financial and non-COVID related provisions in place.

Trump said the Democrats are “holding the American people hostage.”

Trump’s executive actions appeared to provide a temporary reprieve, offering $300 in jobless benefits and some other aid. He has also moved to address possible evictions.

Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows briefed GOP senators privately on Wednesday. Congressional Republicans seem satisfied there is enough money still available from previous aid packages, for now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put in motion the procedural steps to recess, possibly Thursday. The House is already gone.

Democrats want to maintain the $600 jobless benefit, which is a disincentive for many people to go back to work. They also want nearly $1 trillion states and cities that would go beyond COVID expenses to bail out previous fiscal mismanagement. Both are nonstarters for the White House.

While there is some common ground over $100 billion for schools and new funds for virus testing, Democrats also want other emergency funds that Trump rejects, including to shore up the U.S. Postal Service. Democrats have inserted a provision unrelated to COVID that would fund countrywide mail-in balloting.

Their joint statement said Mnuchin made an “overture” to meet. The treasury secretary called the Democratic leaders on Wednesday.

The Democrats said they are waiting for the White House to put a new offer on the table. They have proposed five so far but Democrats have only responded recently proposing just a dollar-based compromise. After that, Mnuchin replied, “The Democrats have no interest in negotiating.”

Mnuchin said Pelosi’s statement was “not an accurate reflection of our conversation. She made clear that she was unwilling to meet to continue negotiations unless we agreed in advance to her proposal, costing at least $2 trillion.”

—AP stories contributed to this report.

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