Congressional Democrats, White House set new round of coronavirus aid talks

The US Senate votes to table an amendment in the US Senate Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington January 21, 2020. — US Senate TV handout via Reuters
The US Senate votes to table an amendment in the US Senate Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington January 21, 2020. — US Senate TV handout via Reuters
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 — Top White House officials and Democratic leaders in the US Congress will try again today to narrow gaping differences over a fifth major coronavirus relief bill to help stimulate the economy and possibly provide new aid to the unemployed.

The two sides have reported some progress in recent days. But they remain far apart on a range of issues including unemployment benefits for workers made jobless by the epidemic, as well as liability protections for businesses and funding for schools, state and local governments and election security.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were due to meet with Senate Republicans at a midday policy lunch, before resuming negotiations with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT).

Federal Reserve officials are urging Congress and the White House to help the struggling US economy. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs during the crisis.

Congress passed more than US$3 trillion (RM12.7 trillion)  in relief legislation early in the epidemic. But lawmakers missed a deadline last week to extend the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment payments that have played a key role in propping up the U.S. economy.

Democrats are pressing for another US$3 trillion that would retain the US$600 benefit and add nearly US$1 trillion in assistance for state and local governments.

Senate Republicans, who have not taken part in the White House talks with Democrats, have proposed a US$1 trillion package that would slash the unemployment payment to $200 a week and eventually move to 70 per cent of wages.

Republicans say the US$600 benefit - which is on top of state unemployment payments - discourages people from taking lower-paying jobs. A Fed official on Monday said there was little evidence to support that view.

Differences also remain on whether to extend a moratorium on housing evictions and Democrats’ demand for around US$1 trillion in aid to state and local governments suffering revenue shortfalls as a result of the epidemic. — Reuters

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