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Negotiators Stuck, Still Trying on Aid 08/06 06:22


   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. Negotiators are still stuck, but still trying.

   A combative meeting Wednesday involving top Capitol Hill Democrats and the 
postmaster general and a souring tone from both sides indicate that a long slog 
remains, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows threatened afterward that 
President Donald Trump is exploring options to use executive authority to 
extend a partial eviction ban and address unemployment benefits.

   After some movement Tuesday in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's direction on aid 
to states and local governments and unemployment insurance benefits, 
Wednesday's session offered no breakthroughs or major progress, participants 
said afterward.

   "If we can reach a compromise on these big issues, I think everything else 
will fall into place. If we can't reach an agreement on these big issues then I 
don't see us coming to an overall deal," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said 
after the two-hour meeting. "And then we'll have to look at the president 
taking actions under his executive authority."

   Multiple issues remain, but some areas of likely agreement are coming into 

   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.


   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.


   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.


   A cornerstone to any agreement, and one of the areas in which both sides are 
eager to display generosity, involves over $100 billion for help to school 
systems. The White House and its GOP allies are pressing for more money for 
schools that return students to the classroom and want to help private schools 
as well. Very tricky talks remain, and Republicans are carping that Pelosi is 
being too greedy. Meanwhile, schools are beginning to reopen across the country.


   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. But talks have yet to 
begin on the thorny topic, and there seems to be suspicion among Republicans 
that the White House negotiating team isn't as solidly behind the idea as 
McConnell is.


   The Postal Service is being run by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump 
ally under attack for management changes that have coincided with delays in 
mail delivery.

   Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said DeJoy had some answers but he 
and Pelosi were still dissatisfied.

   "We are demanding that the regulations they put in place, which cut 
employment and cut overtime, be rescinded, particularly because of COVID, and 
because of the elections," Schumer said afterward.

   A recent Democratic offer called for $10 billion for overtime and other 
costs, down from a bloated $25 billion plan in the House-passed coronavirus 
bill. Key Republicans whose rural constituents are especially reliant on the 
post office support the idea.


   More than $100 billion in leftover loan funding from the Paycheck Protection 
Program --- relief money for small businesses --- is up for grabs. Top 
advocates like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are backing plans to ease some loan 
forgiveness rules and permit a second round of PPP payments to especially 
hard-hit businesses.


   The competing bills from House Democrats and Senate Republicans include a 
fair amount of money for non-coronavirus-related items. The Senate proposal 
contains an almost $2 billion new FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and $30 
billion for the Pentagon, including direct help for powerful defense 
contractors. That's likely to get dumped, as will a more generous federal tax 
deduction for state and local taxes that Democrats included in their bill.

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