Shared from the 7/30/2020 The Denver Post eEdition

WHITE HOUSE

As president undercuts talks, extra jobless aid will lapse

WASHINGTON» The prospects for a quick agreement between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats on a new round of aid for the ailing economy faded Wednesday as President Donald Trump undercut his own party’s efforts to negotiate a deal and a top White House official declared that a lifeline to unemployed workers would run out as scheduled at week’s end.

With negotiations barely started to find a middle ground between Republicans’ $1 trillion plan and Democrats’ $3 trillion package, Trump poured cold water on the entire enterprise, saying he would prefer a bare-bones package that would send “payments to the people” and protect them from being evicted.

“The rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care,” Trump said before leaving the White House for an event in Texas. “We really don’t care.”

The comments stoked questions about whether the president — whose re-election prospects, and his party’s hold on the Senate, could turn on the health of the economy — was willing or able to find a compromise to inject one last dose of stimulus before he faced voters in November.

“We’re nowhere close to a deal,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters after leaving talks with top Democrats in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. He predicted that a $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit would lapse as scheduled on Friday without any action to restore it.

Republicans have proposed slashing the payments to $200 per week, while Democrats want to keep it through the end of the year. It was just one of myriad issues dividing the sides.

The breakdown reflects a predicament for Republicans that has placed Trump in a difficult negotiating position. After the enactment of nearly $3 trillion in pandemic-related stimulus in the spring, many Senate Republicans are opposed to additional deficit spending to fuel the economy, meaning that any agreement would need to attract significant support from Democrats to clear Congress.

But with the two sides deeply at odds over how to structure the package and how large it should be, the administration’s outreach to Democratic leaders has failed to produce progress toward a deal.

With time running out, White House officials Wednesday renewed their calls for a temporary extension of the expiring unemployment insurance benefits and a moratorium on evictions.

But Democrats quickly rejected that idea, which they have said would only sap momentum for other critical aid — including for states and cities, schools and health care — that must be approved quickly as Americans continue to suffer.

Senate Republicans did not include an extension of the eviction moratorium in their $1.1 trillion relief package, which Trump has dismissed as “semi-irrelevant,” even though it was the product of prolonged negotiations between Republican congressional leaders and his own advisers. But the president signaled that he did not believe they had driven a hard enough bargain with Democrats.

“The payments aren’t enough,” Trump said Wednesday, although it was not clear what payments he was referring to. “They’re not making them high enough. The Democrats are not taking care of the people.”

The Democratic measure includes $1,200 direct payments to Americans — the same level that Republicans proposed. The jobless benefits Democrats have proposed are three times as large as what Republicans are offering.

Trump also rebuked Republicans for their reluctance to provide $1.75 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, a longtime priority of his and one that could potentially increase the value of his hotel nearby.

“Republicans should go back to school and learn,” the president said. “They need a new building. It’s a bad building.”

Trump’s insistence on including the money, unrelated to the coronavirus or the recession, in the aid package has rankled Senate Republicans and left many to wonder how serious the administration is about sealing a deal with Democrats.

Democrats were equally pessimistic Wednesday about reaching a compromise, and they placed the blame squarely on Republicans for opting to wait until late July, just as the jobless aid was expiring, to start negotiations on a relief package.

Several Republicans also appeared reluctant to embrace the prospect when asked Wednesday. One Republican aide likened the idea of a short-term bill to paying a ransom twice.

Analysts in Washington said they saw a rising risk that lawmakers might not reach a comprehensive agreement before a scheduled recess early next month.

“These negotiations are in a bad, bad place,” said Jon Lieber, the managing director for the United States at the Eurasia Group and a former adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader.

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