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Enhanced jobless benefits expired overnight: Here’s where Congress’ negotiations stand

The federal enhanced unemployment benefit that out-of-work Americans have relied on amid the coronavirus pandemic has now officially expired — and Democrats and Republicans are still far apart in negotiations over a new stimulus package that could bring relief with no deal in sight.

Talks continued Saturday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosting a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Speaker’s office with the lead negotiators for the Trump administration, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but no deal was ultimately reached. The group will meet again on Monday and members of their staffs will meet Sunday to discuss issues, Schumer said.

Pelosi and Schumer told reporters following the meeting that the morning’s discussions were productive, but that the sides still are not close to an agreement.

“The best discussions we’ve had so far, I call it progress but a ways to go,” Schumer said, noting that it was the longest meeting the group has had to date.

Mnuchin and Meadows echoed that sentiment. “We’re still a long ways apart, and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not,” Meadows said. “But like with any deal, as you make progress, I think it’s important to recognize that you’re making progress and not set an unrealistic expectation that we are just a few items away. Because there are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress.”

Mnuchin told reporters that “there’s clearly a subset of issues where we both agree on,” listing an extension of unemployment insurance, schools, the Paycheck Protection Program and jobs.

Pelosi had reiterated prior to the meeting that Democrats are not interested in a short-term agreement. Following the talks, Mnuchin said they were at an “impasse” over whether to pass a short-term fix to buy time for talks over a broader package.

“They’ve made clear, there’s clearly a desire on their part to do an entire package, we’ve made clear that we’re willing to deal with short-term issues and pass something quickly and come back to the larger issues, so we’re at an impasse on that,” he said.

The federal enhanced benefit program was set up to provide an additional $600 a week to individuals receiving regular state unemployment benefits and was meant as an added boost to help blunt the economic fallout from the pandemic.

There has been major disagreement, however, between Democrats and Republicans over how to deal with the program’s expiration. A House bill put forward by Democrats as their opening offer in the talks would extend the $600 enhanced benefit through January. In contrast, Republicans, in a plan unveiled at the beginning of the week, proposed cutting the weekly payment to $200 until states implement a system that replaces roughly 70% of laid-off workers’ wages.

The White House has also offered a shorter-term extension of the federal unemployment benefit, but it was rejected by Democrats who have argued any deal should be broader and include stimulus money for state and local governments, testing funding and more money for small business programs.

Republicans have argued that the existing system risks incentivizing some Americans not to go back to work by paying them more than they would at their prior jobs, while Democrats have argued that the benefits should be left intact.

At this point, there has been little progress toward any kind of deal to reinstate the benefit, but there has been plenty of finger pointing on both sides with both blaming the other for the lapse.

In dueling press conferences on Friday, Meadows took to the White House briefing room podium to accuse Democrats of “playing politics at a critical time,” while Pelosi said during her own news conference on Capitol Hill that Republicans “do not understand the gravity of the situation” and are “disrespectful of the needs of America’s working families.”

Meadows said that the White House made “no less than four” offers to Democrats dealing with the enhanced benefit and eviction protection and said that the offers were all rejected.

President Donald Trump joined in on the finger-pointing Friday afternoon, tweeting, “Pelosi & Schumer have no interest in making a deal that is good for our Country and our People.”

In a sign of just how far apart the two sides are, Pelosi pushed back Friday in an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar on the assertion that the White House offered a short-term extension of the benefit that Democrats rejected.

“That isn’t true,” Pelosi said. “Let’s just set the record straight. They made no such offer. They made no such offer. Don’t accept something as fact just because the White House said it.”

Pelosi went on to say, “They’re asking about doing something for a week.” She added that Republicans are “making up things that they say they’re offering and the rest. But understand this, passing something for a week without all the other things that should go with it is not any path we will go down. It’s a public relations stunt on their part.”

Amid the war of words, however, it’s worth taking note of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put into place on Thursday, which signals upcoming action in the upper chamber.

He brought up a shell bill and, with a simple majority vote, put it into play for next week — something that creates a number of potential options, from serving as a vehicle for a short-term unemployment deal, or even a comprehensive deal, or just a place where there will be dueling messaging votes. But the point is this: there will be action on the Senate floor next week. It might all be a sideshow, but often movement of any kind starts to jar loose actual discussions which lead to actual movement on things.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, meanwhile, advised members on Friday that despite a planned August recess the House is expected to meet during the month of August as talks continue around a coronavirus relief package. Members will be given at least 24 hours notice before being called back for votes.

This story has been updated with additional developments Saturday.

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