White House, congressional Democrats trade blame over coronavirus aid deadlock

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of President Donald Trump’s top negotiators with congressional Democrats on U.S. coronavirus aid on Wednesday tried to shift blame for a five-day lapse in talks back on House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disputed a statement from Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that said Republicans had invited more talks but refused to budge from their initial offer of a $1 trillion response that is less than a third of what the Democratic-controlled House passed in May.

“An overture was made by Secretary Mnuchin to meet and he made clear that … the White House is not budging from their position concerning the size and scope of a legislative package,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

“We have again made clear to the administration that we are willing to resume negotiations once they start to take this process seriously,” they said in the statement.

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Mnuchin in a statement disputed the Democrats’ account, saying, “she made clear that she was unwilling to meet to continue negotiations unless we agreed in advance to her proposal, costing at least $2 trillion.”

Schumer last week said Democrats had suggested the White House negotiators meet halfway. The $1 trillion proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met immediate opposition both from Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans.

The pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on the United States, where it has killed more than 164,000 people, more than any other country. Millions of U.S. workers have lost jobs, and have now taken a further hit after $600 per week in additional federal unemployment benefits expired last month.

Talks on a new package broke down last Friday. Sticking points include the size of an extended unemployment benefit, aid to state and local governments, money for schools to reopen and other issues.

Mnuchin said the administration was willing to move forward on a plan that would provide funding for needs including schools, vaccines, hospitals, small businesses and state and local governments, as well as the liability protection McConnell has insisted on.

Congress has already approved about $3 trillion in assistance for families, hospitals, healthcare workers, state and local governments, vaccine research and testing.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that Americans divide blame pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

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