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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Debate continues on $600 a week temporary unemployment benefit

Both sides blaming the other as agreement appears elusive.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The White House appears keen to endorse a temporary extension of a $600 per week supplemental unemployment benefit as the popular boost to both the economy and family budgets is about to expire. The idea is a prominent feature of top-level Washington talks on a major election-season COVID-19 response measure.

After late-night talks failed to produce a breakthrough, the two sides took their case to the media Friday morning, with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appearing before reporters on short notice at the exact moment House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared at her weekly news conference.

Meadows accused Democrats of refusing to negotiate, saying President Donald Trump has instructed him to be “aggressive and forward leaning” in trying to extend the supplemental jobless benefit.

“Democrats have made zero offers over the last three days,” said Meadows, an inexperienced negotiator. He said Democrats are “willing to play politics” and are acting like they “hold all the cards.”

The White House on Thursday offered a short-term extension of the $600 weekly unemployment benefit, but Democrats rejected it, saying it needs to be part of a far more sweeping bill that would deliver aid to state and local governments, help for the poor and funding for schools and colleges to address the pandemic. Without action, the unemployment benefit runs out Friday.

“Clearly they did not understand the gravity of the situation,” Pelosi said. She said a short-term extension only makes sense if the two sides are close to a deal.

“Why don’t we just get the job done,” she said.

Then Pelosi offered a tutorial on negotiating.

“There are two things to remember. One is the person you’re negotiating with has to want something” for the American people, Pelosi said. “And they have to know you will walk” if you don’t get a good enough agreement.

Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 jobless benefit in the next coronavirus package, but their resolve weakened with the looming expiration of the popular benefit — and as Trump undercut their position by signaling he wants to keep the full $600 benefit for now.

“We want a temporary extension of enhanced unemployment benefits,” Trump said at the White House on Thursday. “This will provide a critical bridge for Americans who lost their jobs to the pandemic through no fault of their own.”

The sides agreed to talk again Friday and into the weekend. There continues to be agreement among Washington’s top power players that Congress must pass further relief in the coming days and weeks.

“Do we want to continue to come to an agreement? Absolutely,” said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer. “But it’s got to meet the gravity of the problem.”

Trump is eager for another round of COVID relief, and it’s also a priority for GOP allies like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Pelosi and Schumer. Democrats hold a strong negotiating hand — exploiting GOP divisions over whether more aid is even needed — and they are expected to deliver a necessary trove of votes.
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