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Progress Slow on Virus Relief Bill     08/04 06:14

   Negotiators on a huge coronavirus relief bill reported slight progress after 
talks resumed in the Capitol, with issues like food for the poor and aid to 
schools struggling to reopen safely assuming a higher profile in the talks.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Negotiators on a huge coronavirus relief bill reported 
slight progress after talks resumed in the Capitol, with issues like food for 
the poor and aid to schools struggling to reopen safely assuming a higher 
profile in the talks.

   Multiple obstacles remain, including an impasse on extending a $600-per-week 
pandemic jobless benefit, funding for the U.S. Postal Service and aid to 
renters facing eviction. Democratic negotiators spoke of progress Monday at 
almost the very moment that top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell was slamming 
them for taking a hard line in the talks.

   "We are really getting an understanding of each side's position. And we're 
making some progress on certain issues moving closer together," said Senate 
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "There are a lot of issues that are still 
outstanding. But I think there is a desire to get something done as soon as we 
can."

   After the meeting, Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a call that 
she's hopeful a deal could be reached this week, but doesn't know if it's 
possible, according to a Democratic aide who was granted anonymity to describe 
the private discussion.

   Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a lead negotiator for President Donald 
Trump, said afterward that "we continue to make a little bit of progress" and 
that the administration is not insistent on a small-bore approach centered on 
extending the supplemental unemployment benefit and leaving other items for 
later. A GOP move to advance a slimmed-down relief package has been a recent 
point of conflict, with Democrats insisting there must be a comprehensive deal.

   "We're open to a bigger package if we can reach an agreement," Mnuchin said.

   On the Senate floor, McConnell, R-Ky., re-upped his complaint that Democrats 
are taking too tough a line. McConnell is not a direct participant in the talks 
but is likely to be an important force in closing out any potential agreement.

   "The speaker of the House and the Democratic Leader are continuing to say 
'our way or the highway' with a massive wish list for left-wing lobbyists that 
was slapped together a few weeks ago called a coronavirus bill," McConnell said.

   Speaking to reporters after the two-hour session, Democratic negotiators 
pressed the case for additional food aid, funding for the Postal Service and 
the $600-per-week jobless benefit that lapsed last week. The benefit has helped 
prop up the economy and family budgets as the coronavirus has wrought havoc.

   The White House is seeking opportunities to boost Trump, like providing 
another round of $1,200 stimulus payments and extending the supplemental 
jobless benefit and partial eviction ban. Pelosi appears intent on an agreement 
as well, but she's made it clear she needs big money for state and local 
governments, unemployment benefits and food aid.

   "It was productive, we're moving down the track. We still have our 
differences, we are trying to have a clearer understanding of what the needs 
are, and the needs are that millions of children in our country are food 
insecure," Pelosi said. "Millions of people in our country are concerned about 
being evicted. Tens of millions of people are on unemployment insurance."

   Most members of the Democratic-controlled House have left Washington and 
won't return until there is an agreement to vote on, but the GOP-held Senate is 
trapped in the capital.

   "I can't see how we can go home and tell people we've failed, so I think 
that's going to be a lot of pressure on everybody to come up with something," 
said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "It really is a matter of will. It's not a 
matter of substance at this point. This is just a painful period between people 
finally deciding OK, we want a deal, and then what that deal will ultimately 
look like."

   Areas of agreement already include the $1,200 direct payment and changes to 
the Paycheck Protection Program to permit especially hard-hit businesses to 
obtain another loan under generous forgiveness terms.

   But the terms and structure of the unemployment benefit have remained a 
sticking point, along with the money for state and local governments. Democrats 
want almost $1 trillion for localities grappling with pandemic-related revenue 
losses.

   Speaking to reporters Monday evening, Trump made clear the two sides were 
still far apart on that issue.

   "They want to bail out cities and states that have been in trouble for years 
of bad management," Trump said. "In all cases Democrat-run cities, and we don't 
think that's fair."

   McConnell is insistent on a liability shield against lawsuits by workers, 
students, and others against institutions seeking to remain open during the 
pandemic, including businesses, universities and charities.

   On Monday, unions representing professional athletes --- including NFL 
players and Major League Basesball players --- weighed in against McConnell's 
proposal, saying in a letter to lawmakers, "It makes little sense during these 
uncertain times to both ask employees to return to work and, at the same time, 
accept all the risk for doing so."

   On unemployment, Pelosi said she'd consider reducing the $600 benefit for 
people in states with lower unemployment rates. Republicans want to cut the 
benefit to encourage beneficiaries to return to work and say it is bad policy 
since it pays many jobless people more money than they made at their previous 
jobs.

   Another sticking point is that Republicans want to give more school aid to 
systems that are restarting with in-school learning, even as Dr. Deborah Birx, 
Trump's top coronavirus adviser, cautioned that schools in areas with spikes in 
cases should delay reopening.

   Pelosi said Monday's talks featured extensive discussion on reopening 
schools. Schumer said the discussion got into the details on the dollar figures 
involving school aid and food aid.

   The House passed a $3.5 trillion measure in May, but Republicans controlling 
the Senate have demanded a slower approach, saying it was necessary to take a 
"pause" before passing additional legislation. Since they announced that 
strategy, however, coronavirus caseloads have spiked and the economy has 
absorbed an enormous blow.

 
 
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