U.S. COVID-19 aid bill talks ongoing as jobless benefit nears end

FILE PHOTO: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) testifies as the House Rules Committee meets to consider a resolution authorizing remote voting by proxy in the House of Representatives during a public health emergency due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and to formulate a rule on the newest coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill continue, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said as a federal jobless benefit was set to expire on Friday with no sign of a deal between the White House and Democrats.

“We’re going to be negotiating every minute that is possible,” despite the Republican-led Senate’s adjournment for the weekend, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told MSNBC in an interview.

Lawmakers and the White House are at odds over efforts to further shore up the economy and manage the novel coronavirus pandemic that has left tens of millions of Americans out of work and killed at least 152,384 people in the United States.

In a meeting on Thursday night between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders, negotiations focused on an extension of the expiring unemployment benefit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent senators home for the weekend without reaching a deal to extend the extra $600 per week unemployment benefits many received amid the outbreak.

According to a person familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the White House proposed reducing the $600 weekly payment to $400 for the next four months. While that was a move toward the demands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the source said they rejected it as insufficient.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans tried, without success, to pass a bill reducing the jobless benefit to $200 per week.

For weeks, McConnell has said that any deal with Democrats would require a shield for companies and schools from liability lawsuits as they reopen during the pandemic.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the White House hinted that it could embrace a deal without that provision.

Besides the $600 “enhanced” payment, Democrats are seeking a wide-ranging economic stimulus bill that would include about $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments experiencing plunging revenues during the economic downturn.

In mid-May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion bill that the Republican Senate has ignored.

“We’re here, we’re on the phone. We will be negotiating with those who want to get to a reasonable place,” Hoyer told MSNBC.

More details on the White House position may emerge when Trump’s spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany gives a news briefing scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT). Pelosi is also scheduled to talk to reporters at 10:45 a.m. (1445 GMT).

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