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White House, lawmakers tangle over scope of new coronavirus legislation


U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Trump administration officials and Democratic congressional leaders tried to narrow stark differences over coronavirus aid on Wednesday, with no guarantees they can craft a compromise before some unemployment benefits expire as President Donald Trump said he was in no hurry.


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were due to resume negotiations with the two top Democrats in Congress: House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

An hour-long meeting of the four broke up late on Tuesday afternoon amid no sign of progress.

“As of now, we’re very far apart,” Mnuchin told reporters.

Senate Republican leaders are pushing for around $1 trillion in new aid, on top of more than $3 trillion enacted since early this year. Democrats have backed $3 trillion in new spending.


EXPIRING BENEFITS

In late March, Washington enacted a wide-ranging aid bill that included $600 per week in “enhanced” unemployment benefits. The goal was to rescue millions of U.S. workers who lost their jobs because of shutdowns to curb the coronavirus pandemic. That benefit is due to expire on Friday.


Democrats are pushing to extend the $600 for several more months. Republicans, arguing that it discourages some workers from seeking employment, have proposed temporarily reducing the federal payment to $200 a week, on top of state unemployment benefits.


Besides the jobless benefit, lawmakers are also arguing over a Republican plan to prevent liability lawsuits against businesses and schools reopening during the pandemic.

Trump also wants any legislation to include $1.8 billion to build a new FBI headquarters in Washington, something strongly opposed by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans.


Democrats say the plan is intended to protect business at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington, which is across the street from the FBI headquarters.


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