WASHINGTON – A $600 weekly unemployment benefit that has helped millions of Americans stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic officially ended at midnight as Congress adjourned for the weekend without coming to any deal on the program or a larger emergency stimulus package.
The discussions over another package turned testy Friday as Democrats and Republicans each blamed the other for their inability to come to an agreement, leaving out-of-work Americans in limbo as the vital benefits came to a halt.
In dueling press conferences, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows laid into Democrats for rejecting a short-term deal to continue the bolstered unemployment benefit for one week, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi railed against Republicans and the Trump administration for attempting to take a piecemeal approach to helping Americans as COVID-19 cases continue to surge nationally.
“What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats up on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said from the White House podium. “The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized Republicans for waiting months before attempting to take up another emergency package, noting the surge of coronavirus cases and high unemployment rate.
“They do not understand the gravity of the situation,” she said of Republicans. “We don’t have shared values. That’s just the way it is.”
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She argued a deal to extend the unemployment benefit by one week would only be meaningful if a larger bill was nearly worked out, noting the time it would take for the measure to pass and for money to reach families. Pelosi also said the Senate, which has remained divided on unemployment, likely would not have the votes to approve a continuation of the $600 weekly benefit, which bolsters state benefits that average nationally about $370 a week.
Later Friday, the president posted a series of tweets blaming Democrats for the deadlock, saying they’re standing in the way of Americans receiving another stimulus check.
Pelosi & Schumer blocked desperately needed unemployment payments, which is so terrible, especially since they fully understand that it was not the workers fault that they are unemployed, it’s the fault of China!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2020
“Pelosi & Schumer have no interest in making a deal that is good for our Country and our People. All they want is a trillion dollars, and much more, for their Radical Left Governed States, most of which are doing very badly,” the president wrote in one post. In another, he said the two Democratic leaders were blocking unemployment assistance, “which is so terrible, especially since they fully understand that it was not the workers fault that they are unemployed, it’s the fault of China!”
Though the back-and-forth attacks signal a deal is still far off, both Meadows and Pelosi said they plan to meet again to continue talks.
Friday’s news conferences cap off a week filled with negotiations over another stimulus bill, talks that have all but stalled as Republicans are divided over what should be included in the measure and Democrats remain against a smaller bill to keep unemployment flowing for a short period. The Senate adjourned on Thursday and the House left town on Friday, ensuring any deal wouldn’t be able to pass until next week at the very earliest.
On Thursday, Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for a lengthy meeting where both sides attempted once more to come to a deal before millions saw their unemployment benefits rolled back significantly.
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Meadows said Democrats were given four separate offers throughout the day but rejected all of them.
“We’re going in the wrong direction. They’re going in the wrong direction because of partisan politics. It is very disappointing,” Meadows said. “It surprises me that when we talk about compassion and caring about those that truly are in need, that a temporary solution to make sure that unemployment, enhanced unemployment continues has been rejected not once but multiple times.”
House Democrats passed their version of the next stimulus package in May, a $3 trillion measure that would have extended the $600 boost in weekly unemployment compensation until at least January. The proposal has not been taken up by the Republican-held Senate.
Democrats, including Pelosi, have balked at taking up unemployment assistance as a separate measure, arguing Republicans should come to the table for a larger deal on a host of pressing policy items, including more funds for local and state governments. House Democrats’ bill included not only an extension of unemployment but also another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and increased funds for state and local governments.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have had trouble negotiating their demands as the conference remains divided on what the next stimulus package should include. Some even expressed doubt that another bill is needed. The divisions remained even after Republicans unveiled their own proposal this week that included $1,200 stimulus checks, funds for schools and small businesses, and a scaled-back unemployment benefits of $200 per week.
Many Republicans have spent weeks railing against the $600 unemployment benefit, which is paid to Americans in addition to state claims. They argue it should be changed or replaced with a back-to-work incentive in hopes of jump-starting the economy and getting shuttered businesses to rehire laid-off workers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell started the process on Thursday for the Senate to take up a measure that could tackle unemployment, meaning boosted unemployment could be approved by the chamber early next week, though currently the House is not expected to approve such a proposal.
While unemployment benefits have remained a point of contention, both sides have butted heads over a number of proposals, including Republican demands that companies be shielded from coronavirus-related lawsuits and Democratic requirements that state and local governments be given more funds to offset their budgets after the pandemic.
But both sides appeared mostly opposed to a request from the administration for $377 million to modernize the West Wing along with more than a $1 billion to keep the new FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the requests. While pointing out previous coronavirus relief bills had “plenty of other things” that were unrelated to the pandemic, McEnany insisted the FBI funding “is not a red line for us.”
“It was part of the initial bill but it is certainly not a red line priority,” she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus stimulus: Trump, Pelosi cast blame as unemployment ends