White House eyes executive action on COVID relief as talks stall

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White House and Democratic negotiators emerged from their tenth covid-relief negotiation late Thursday still “very far apart” on major issues they need for a deal.

Republicans have set Friday up as a new deadline for lawmakers to make significant progress on a larger relief bill, or President Trump will continue to move forward with his plans to use executive action.

“I think there are a lot of issues we are close to a compromise position on but I think there are a handful of very big issues we’re still very far apart,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin told reporters. “If we conclude tomorrow that there is not a compromise position on the major issues the president has alternatives.”

“There would have to be some serious compromises on some big issues tomorrow,” he added.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said they were “disappointed” in how the three-hour meeting went and accused Republicans of demanding “it has to be mostly in our direction.”

“We have always said that the Republicans and the president do not understand the gravity of the situation. And every time we meet with them it is reinforced,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said.

Republicans, meanwhile, levied the same accusation — blaming Democrats for shooting down compromises on unemployment and other benefits.

President Trump said Thursday he’s tasked his staff with working on an executive order that would include a payroll tax cut, eviction protections, extensions on boosted unemployment, and flexibility on student loan repayment.

Mr. Schumer countered that going that route would leave millions of Americans without benefits.

“It’s not a good choice at all and they admitted that in the room,” the New York Democrat argued. “So we plead with them: Continue to negotiate. Realize that you have to do this in a truly bipartisan way, not the way Donald Trump seems to see it, which is it mostly all has to be his way.”

The GOP is split over its own proposal, with more than a dozen Republican senators unhappy with spending even more money as the coronavirus tab reaches nearly $3 trillion — but they’re united in saying the Democrats’ proposal is a partisan wishlist and non-starter.

While there’s an overlap in having schools, extended unemployment benefits, direct payments to the public as top priorities, the sticking points are, as always, in the details — who qualifies and how much to spend.

The issue currently at the forefront of the talks is how Congress should address extra unemployment insurance, with 1.2 million new unemployment claims filed last week.

Democrats want a straight extension of the $600 weekly payments, which come on top of normal unemployment benefits, while Republicans‘ initial proposal would have cut that down to $200 a week until states can implement a new system that would pay 70% of a worker’s previous wages. Some Republicans have floated a few other proposals for short-term UI extensions or a scaled-down benefit.

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