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Congressional Democrats, White House still at impasse over coronavirus bill

Reuters logo Reuters 1/08/2020 By Diane Bartz and Jan Wolfe
Chuck Schumer wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Weekly news conference in Washington © Reuters/ERIN SCOTT Weekly news conference in Washington

By Diane Bartz and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrats in Congress are not close to a deal with the White House to pump more money into the U.S. economy to ease the coronavirus' heavy toll, both sides said on Saturday, after an essential lifeline for millions of unemployed Americans expired.

a person standing in front of a building: Police officers wearing face masks guard the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington © Reuters/ERIN SCOTT Police officers wearing face masks guard the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington

"This was the longest meeting we had and it was more productive than the other meetings," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. "There are many issues that are still very much outstanding."

Schumer made the remarks after he and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi concluded a three-hour meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the Capitol on Saturday.

Mnuchin told reporters the talks were constructive but had reached an "impasse" over whether to come to a short-term agreement or a more comprehensive deal.

The officials will meet again on Monday, after their staff meet on Sunday, Schumer said.

Congress for the past several months has been unable to reach an accord for a next round of economic relief from a pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans and triggered the sharpest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

In a meeting late Thursday between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders, negotiations focused on an extension of the $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits that Americans who lost jobs due to the pandemic have been receiving in addition to state jobless payments.

Pelosi said on Friday that she rejected an offer by Republican President Donald Trump's administration to continue the $600 payments for one more week.

Congressional Democrats want to see the weekly payments extended into next year as part of a broader package.

Senate Republicans have said the $600 payments are an incentive to stay home rather than return to work. Their proposal would provide a much-reduced weekly payment of $200 until states create a system to provide a 70% wage replacement for laid-off workers.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Saturday slammed Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for letting the Senate go home for the weekend without a deal to extend the unemployment benefits or protect renters facing eviction.

"Because Donald Trump is abdicating his responsibility to lead us out of the pandemic crisis and the economic crisis, we now face a potential housing crisis across the country," Biden said in a statement.

Pelosi told House Democrats in a letter late on Saturday that "all parties must understand the gravity of the situation in order to reach an agreement that protects Americans' lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy."

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)


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