The new White House offer gives a $ 600 check to relieve COVID-19

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration has returned to the midst of Capitol Hill’s tumultuous COVID-19 talks, offering a $ 916 billion package to House President Nancy Pelosi that would send $ 600 in direct payments to most Americans but eliminate $ 300 a week. unemployment benefits supported by a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators.

The offer came on Tuesday with the approval of members of the Republican House of Lords, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to be showing some flexibility. But Democrats immediately blew up a plan that the administration refused to partially restore the $ 300 a week bonus for epidemic unemployment benefits that expired in August.

The House on Wednesday will pass a one-week government funding bill that will give lawmakers more time to settle the hot mess they’ve created for themselves after months of futile negotiations and posting, as well as recent flip-flop rounds. Without the measure, the government would close on the weekend.

President-elect Joe Biden is urging alleviation of as many epidemics as possible, although he is not directly involved in the negotiations. McConnell said Congress will not postpone the long-overdue COVID-19 exemption. The pressure is intense – all parties say failure is not an option.

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Finance Minister Steven Mnuchin made the new offer to Pelosi late Tuesday afternoon, he said in a statement. He offered few details, though Kevin McCarthy, the house’s GOP chief, said he is proposing $ 600 in direct payments to individuals and $ 1,200 to couples, half the amount paid by the March epidemic relief bill..

Mnuchin called Pelosit after calling congressional GOP leaders, including McConnell, who continues to clash with democratic leaders over the relief of COVID-19. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. found unacceptable Mnuchin’s move to throw in an additional $ 300 a week in federal unemployment benefits to supplement regular state benefits.

The best Democrats are instead invested in the work of a bipartisan group that will take the lead in working out a solution.

This group – including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and GOP Sens. Led by Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), she is working to bring lawmakers behind a $ 908 billion framework that includes $ 300 a week in pandemic unemployment. benefit and $ 160 billion for states and local governments. It is more generous than a GOP plan that has already been drawn up twice, but is much smaller than the wish list compiled by the House Democrats.

Details of less controversial elements of the bipartisan group were leaked on Wednesday, including a four-month extension of unemployment benefits that expires at the end of the month, $ 300 billion in “payment protection” subsidies for struggling businesses, funding for vaccinations and tests, and a number of smaller items such as support for transit systems, postal services and healthcare providers.

Negotiations on the fierce controversial liability protection against COVID-related lawsuits against reopened companies, universities and others in the pandemic continue. The issue of accountability is seen as the key to an agreement that pairs business facilitation with a $ 160 billion state and local aid package that Democrats have called for.

Republican members of the group will not move on the negotiated $ 908 billion price tag, which leaves no room for even the reduced $ 600 direct government payment that most of U.S. states Trump is demanding.

“We can’t get our Republican colleagues to exceed $ 908 billion,” Manchin told CNN on Wednesday.

“Currently, we are targeting families in difficulty, failing businesses, health workers, and there is no need to control the incentives of all people, regardless of need,” Collins said.

Other key elements of the potential year-end COVID-19 rescue package are clear: Another round of support for businesses particularly affected by the pandemic; the extension of regular state unemployment benefits expires on 31 December; funding for the distribution of vaccines and other assistance to health care providers in difficulty; and school funding.

A possible COVID agreement will conclude a separate $ 1.4 trillion government spending bill that has its own set of problems, including sage birch protection, census and accounting maneuvers used by lawmakers, squeezing an additional $ 12 billion. into legislation.

McConnell had previously suggested choosing a top democratic priority – support for state and local governments – in exchange for rejecting his own pet care, which is a shield against lawsuits for negligence related to COVID. Democrats angrily rejected the idea, saying McConnell would undermine the efforts of a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators, and rejected earlier statements that state and local subsidies were likely to be a COVID-19 aid deal because the House was under democratic control.

The $ 916 billion Mnuchin offer, ongoing separate talks between key senators, and changing White House demands are confusing, confusing prospects for a long-delayed COVID-19 aid package.

“We’re still looking to move on,” McConnell said Wednesday morning.

The Mnuchin plan resurrects direct payments that are popular with Trump and the public, but not liked by many Republican lawmakers who say they are costly and send too much help to those who don’t need it. Democrats generally accept the idea.

McConnell said Congress will not postpone the long-overdue COVID-19 exemption. He said earlier that he would not put down on the ground any epidemic reduction bill that does not include the liability protection sought by businesses, universities, nonprofits and others who reopen in a pandemic. He approved the $ 300 a week unemployment benefit this summer, but Republicans dropped the idea in two failed votes in the fall.

Pelosi, for his part, initially demanded more than $ 900 billion from state and local governments in the spring, but the state’s budget situation was not as bad as they feared, and democratic leaders were willing to accept the moderate group’s $ 160 billion proposal. . Prior to the November election, Pelosi criticized the $ 1.5 trillion COVID-19 bailout plan drawn up by moderate members as inadequate, but is now willing to see the bridge for further aid from next year’s Biden government significantly less.