Trump pushes for short-term fix on unemployment insurance, eviction moratorium
Democrats have repeatedly rejected the idea of a piecemeal approach that would involve a stand-alone unemployment insurance bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not embraced the idea either, insisting any bill must include a five-year liability shield for businesses, health-care providers and others — a non-starter for Democrats.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking alongside Trump, said the two sides were “very far apart.”
“We’re looking at a deadline obviously of this Friday,” Mnuchin said. “The president’s very focused on evictions and unemployment, and if we can’t reach an agreement by then, the president wants to look at giving us more time to negotiate.”
Trump added, “We’re focused on those two things. We want to take care of them now. The rest we can discuss later.”
More than 20 million Americans remain unemployed and have been receiving a $600 weekly emergency unemployment payment that Congress approved in March, on top of whatever benefit their state offers. That federal benefit runs out Friday.
Democrats want to extend the payment at its current level. The Senate GOP bill released Monday proposes cutting it to $200 weekly until states can phase in a new system that would aim to replace 70 percent of a worker’s wages before unemployment.
Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), rejected Trump’s suggestion, noting via Twitter on Wednesday that House Democrats passed comprehensive coronavirus relief legislation in May that addressed the eviction issue. McConnell ignored the House Democratic bill, and waited until last week to start negotiations on a new one.
“Republicans have dithered for the ten weeks since we passed the #HeroesAct. Renters & landlords alike want payment assistance & that can only happen in a comprehensive bill,” Hammill said. “Piecemeal approach is a waste of time.”
Democrats want to spend three times more than Republicans on the overall bill, expected to be Congress’ last major coronavirus relief bill before the November election. Initial talks have been rocky and a deal looks elusive. Even if there is one, it seems certain that it cannot be reached before Friday.
Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday and Tuesday, and another meeting was expected Wednesday.
McConnell is leaving negotiations with Democrats to the Trump administration officials. The whole process has been overtaken by increasingly bitter partisanship, which was on display on the Senate floor Wednesday morning as McConnell and Schumer traded insults.
McConnell accused Democrats of adopting a “completely unhinged position” in insisting on continuing the $600 weekly emergency unemployment benefits. Republicans say such generous payments act as a disincentive for people to return to the workforce since in many cases they can make more on unemployment.
Referring to Pelosi, McConnell said: “She’ll just refuse to legislate until the election and wish American families good luck dealing with the pandemic.”
Schumer denounced those comments in his own floor speech a short time later.
“This absurd, nasty insinuation by the Republican leader doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Schumer said. “The fact that Leader McConnell would even consider the idea that a political party might deny support for the American people in order to help win an election says more about the Republican leader than anybody else.”
Trump pushed for the extension of the eviction moratorium although the GOP legislation released by McConnell did not include it. The eviction moratorium provision, which was passed as part of the Cares Act in March, shielded 12 million renters nationwide from eviction — but it expired on Friday. House Democrats have pushed for it to be extended.
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, suggested Sunday the administration would back extending the moratorium. He then clarified Monday on Fox News that the administration was pushing an extension in forbearance for homeowners — allowing them to delay payments on their mortgages — but that the administration was still studying the eviction moratorium. That measure prevented renters from being evicted from properties with mortgages backed by the federal government.
McConnell and multiple other Republicans have said they oppose inclusion of the FBI headquarters provision.
“Then Republicans should go back to school and learn. They need a new building … and we can do it very easily,” Trump said.
Congress passed four bipartisan bills in March and April injecting about $3 trillion into the economy as the coronavirus began its deadly and economically devastating march across the country. At the time lawmakers hoped the pandemic would die down; instead it’s been spiking in many places and the U.S. is nearing 150,000 deaths from the disease.
But some fiscal conservatives in the Senate GOP conference oppose spending any more money as the deficit balloons, and Republicans themselves are deeply divided over the legislation McConnell released on Monday.