WASHINGTON (AP) – The differences over the next coronavirus aid package are vast: Democrats propose $3 trillion in relief and Republicans have a $1 trillion counteroffer. At stake are millions of Americans’ jobless benefits, school reopenings and eviction protections.
As top White House negotiators returned to Capitol Hill yesterday, the leverage is apparent. They are meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is left with a weakened hand.
Striking any agreement between Congress and President Donald Trump by Friday’s deadline for expiring aid will be daunting.
“We cannot afford to fail,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
The outcome will be a defining one for the president and the parties heading into the November election as an uneasy nation is watching and waiting for Washington to bring some end to the health crisis and devastating economic fallout.
But McConnell acknowledged the limits with Republicans split: “We’ve done the best we can.”
Key to the debate is the $600 weekly unemployment benefit bump that is expiring for millions of jobless Americans. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week as an incentive to push people back to work. Democrats have shown flickers of willingness to curb the federal aid but are refusing to go that low.
Defending cuts to unemployment assistance, Republicans said the federal supplement is too generous, on top of state benefits, and people should not be paid more while they are at home than they would if they were on the job.
With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, both parties are eager for relief. There is some agreement that more money is needed for virus testing, to help schools prepare to open in the fall and to shore up small businesses.