WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a week’s worth of meetings, at least some clarity is emerging in the bipartisan Washington talks on a huge COVID-19 response bill.
An exchange of offers Tuesday and a meeting devoted to the US Postal Service on Wednesday indicates a long slog remains, but the White House is offering some movement in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s direction on aid to states and local governments and unemployment insurance benefits. Multiple issues remain, but some areas of likely agreement are coming into focus.
Here’s a look where things stand based on public and private statements by key players and their staff:
Pelosi is staking out a hard line on extending a $600-per-week supplemental pandemic federal jobless benefit, which lapsed last week. Republicans offered to extend the benefit into December and cut it to $400, according to aides confirming leaks reported in Politico. The aides were unauthorized to discuss the private talks and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The unemployment insurance issue is perhaps the most important to resolve, but some Senate Republicans up for reelection this fall appear comfortable with yielding on the question.
State, local aid
Similarly, the White House has offered Democrats $150 billion in new appropriations to help state and local governments alleviate revenue losses from the damage the Coronavirus has wrought on the economy. That matches the amount appropriated after a huge behind-the-scenes battle during negotiations on the bipartisan $2 trillion Coronavirus bill that passed in March. Much of that original money is left over, and all sides want greater flexibility in using it, but Pelosi is demanding far more — almost $1 trillion — and key Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mitt Romney of Utah are pressing for more money as well.
Private-sector analysts say the issue can be addressed with considerably less money than Pelosi wants, especially if Congress revisits the issue later.
Pelosi and President Donald Trump agree on another $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, making the idea all but certain to be included in the final agreement, at a cost in the $300 billion range. Pelosi is also pressing the case for a 15% increase in food stamp benefits that are especially important to key progressive constituencies, and Democrats won’t allow $20 billion in aid to farmers without a big trade-off on food aid.
Democrats are also pressing for help for renters and homeowners having difficulty making housing payments and help for front-line essential workers, but both sides support more funding for child care grants, community health centers and energy subsidies for the poor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continues to insist that the legislation include some sort of liability shield against lawsuits brought against businesses, schools and universities, and charities that operate during the pandemic. Pelosi is opposed for now, but Democrats — who see it’s a key to any final agreement — aren’t ruling the idea out.