White House, Congress face tough week of coronavirus aid talks


By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials faced increasing pressure to come up an agreement on coronavirus aid legislation on Monday, after missing a vital deadline to extend relief benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.

Top Democrats in Congress and top representatives of President Donald Trump were due to meet in the U.S. Capitol to resume talks aimed at breaking the deadlock, after reporting progress over the weekend. But the two sides remained far apart, with top Republican lawmakers on the sidelines of the negotiations.

The extension of enhanced $600 per week federal unemployment benefits has proved to be a major stumbling block in the talks, and a top Federal Reserve official warned that failure to secure some form of extension would result in a weaker economy.

Democrats are holding fast to their demand that Congress renew those benefits that expired on Friday - a lifeline for the millions of Americans who have lost work during the pandemic - and are continuing to press for about $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments.

The White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill want to trim the weekly jobless aid, and have rejected as too costly the state and local assistance package that was included in legislation passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in May.

Republicans favoring a reduction in the unemployment aid have said it is a disincentive for people to work.

However, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Monday that economic data does not show the $600-a-week benefit hurts the overall job market.

"While it may have made it hard for certain individual businesses to hire, it has helped create jobs, because it has helped bolster consumer spending, so the net effect still has probably been positive for the economy for employment," Kaplan told Bloomberg TV.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the nation's top elected Democrat, on Sunday accused the White House and Trump's fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill of thinking too small to confront a health crisis that has killed more than 150,000 people in the country and left tens of millions out of work.

"We have a strategic plan for defeating the virus: testing, tracing, treatment, isolation, masks, sanitation, and the rest," she told ABC's "This Week."

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

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday he was not optimistic a deal could be reached quickly on broad legislation, and he once again called on Democrats to sign onto a weeklong fix to jobless benefits to buy time for more talks.

"We continue to see really a stonewalling of any piecemeal type of legislation that happens on Capitol Hill," he told CBS' "Face the Nation." "Hopefully, that will change in the coming days."

Pelosi said on Friday that she thought Congress and the White House eventually will come together on legislation, although she gave no timetable.

There are some areas where lawmakers and the Trump administration may be able to come together quickly.

Both Republicans and Democrats want to renew a moratorium on evictions, which had spared Americans the stress of being left homeless while out of work because of the pandemic. The moratorium expired on July 24.

Likewise, there is broad support for another round of direct payments to taxpayers.

Tensions are particularly high with fewer than 100 days left before the Nov. 3 election, when every seat in the House, 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate and the White House are all up for grabs.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan and Ann Saphir; writing by David Morgan, Tim Ahmann and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

((patricia.zengerle@thomsonreuters.com, www.twitter.com/ReutersZengerle; 001-202-898-8390;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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