Trump urges Republicans to go for ‘higher numbers’ on coronavirus relief

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Trump urged his fellow Republicans Wednesday to go for “much higher numbers” in a coronavirus aid bill, as a stalemate continued in Washington over whether to approve more economic relief from the crisis ahead of Nov. 3 elections.

The Senate’s number two Republican, John Thune, reacted cautiously to Trump’s appeal on Twitter.

The standoff dates to mid-May, when the Democratic-majority House of Representatives approved $3.4 trillion in new aid, including unemployment benefits, money for schools, the U.S. Postal Service, and testing.

The Senate’s Republican leaders countered with a $1 trillion plan, but some of their own members balked at that. Last week they put a $300 billion bill up for a vote that Democrats blocked as insufficient.

“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Congress and the White House approved more than $3 trillion worth of coronavirus relief measures earlier this year.

Thune, speaking after Trump’s tweet, said proposals had to stay in a “realistic” range. Noting the original $1 trillion Senate Republican plan, he said: “As you go upwards from there you start … losing Republican support pretty quickly.”

A $1.5 trillion compromise floated Tuesday by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of dozens of centrist lawmakers, was attacked by members of both parties, including leading House Democrats. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, however, said it deserved consideration.

Thune said there was some Republican interest in the $1.5 trillion package, but that the $500 trillion it included in aid for state and local governments would be hard for Republican senators to swallow. Meadows told reporters Wednesday that the state and local issue was probably the biggest obstacle to a deal.

Another Republican senator said Wednesday he thought a deal of around $1.5 trillion or $1.7 trillion was possible.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has offered to drop her aid demand to about $2.2 trillion. She faces growing pressure from moderate Democrats to take another vote on COVID-19 relief, but told MSNBC Wednesday that the way forward depends on the willingness of the White House to accept a bill large enough to address the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we want is to put something on the floor that will become law. And so that requires a negotiation,” she said. “We think they (the White House) should come to the table.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Senate to vote on COVID-19 aid as soon as this week: McConnell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate will introduce a new proposal on coronavirus relief legislation on Tuesday and could schedule a vote as soon as this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

He said the new proposal would target “some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues.”

“It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation,” McConnell’s statement said.

Earlier, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said he was hopeful there would be another round of federal COVID-19 stimulus funding before the Nov. 3 presidential election, but signaled no breakthrough in talks with congressional Democrats.

Interviewed on Fox Business Network, Meadows said he hoped legislation put forward by Senate Republicans would provide a basis for a future agreement with Democratic lawmakers and that negotiations were ongoing.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller)

Hopes for fresh round of U.S. coronavirus relief fade as Congress goes home

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The prospects for a deal in the U.S. Congress to help Americans suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic dimmed on Friday, with the Senate and House of Representatives in recess and no fresh talks scheduled with President Donald Trump’s negotiators.

After a week that the leaders of the Democratic and the Republican parties spent blaming each other for a breakdown in talks, lawmakers were not due to reconvene until next month, though the leaders of both parties said they could recall their members with 24 hours notice if a deal emerged.

The two sides formally remained about $2 trillion apart, with wide gaps on funding for schools, aid to state and local governments, and unemployment pay. Trump on Thursday added that he opposed any money to help the U.S. Postal Service handle an expected flood of mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 elections, though he later said he would not veto a bill that included it.

An impasse over $600-a-week in enhanced unemployment benefits, which expired on July 31, kept financial markets on edge as the Commerce Department reported weaker-than-expected July retail sales growth due to the effects of the spiraling pandemic and the cessation of the enhanced unemployment payments.

The unemployment payments had helped the U.S. economy by buttressing consumer spending, according to Federal Reserve officials and economists. Trump tried to act alone on Saturday with a memorandum proposing an additional $300 per week in unemployment, though economists questioned the effectiveness of the limited measure.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. coronavirus infections approached 5.3 million on Friday, with deaths topping 167,000.

U.S. share prices dropped earlier this week when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disclosed there were no coronavirus talks scheduled. Stocks also weakened on Friday on July retail sales data.

But House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday contended that investors are looking for “surgical” action on coronavirus aid rather than the comprehensive approach sought by Democrats with the $3 trillion-plus Heroes Act the House passed in May.

“If we went forward with what the Democrats asked for in that $3 trillion? I believe the market would drop hard because it would put greater debt on all taxpayers,” McCarthy told CNBC.

Democrats offered to reduce their proposal by $1 trillion during negotiations with White House officials last week. The White House rejected the offer.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published early this week found that Americans blame both parties for the inaction.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)