WASHINGTON – A day of shuttle diplomacy on Capitol Hill over a coronavirus aid package produced few results Tuesday, with stark differences between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counteroffer from Republicans as millions of Americans' jobless benefits, school reopenings and eviction protections hang in the balance.
As top White House negotiators returned for a second day of talks, the leverage is apparent. They are meeting again in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is left with a severely weakened hand.
President Donald Trump said the Republican effort is “semi-irrelevant” as talks launch with Democrats.
“We want to do what’s best for the people," Trump said at the White House.
Striking any agreement with Congress by Friday's deadline for expiring aid will be daunting. But the outcome will be a defining one for the president and the parties heading into the November election as an uneasy nation is watching and waiting for Washington to bring some end to the health crisis and devastating economic fallout.
“We cannot afford to fail,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Key to the debate is the $600 weekly unemployment benefit bump that is expiring for millions of jobless Americans. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week as an incentive to push people back to work. Democrats have shown flickers of willingness to curb the federal aid but held firm in first-round talks.
Wider disputes will punctuate the discussions over money for cash-strapped states and cities, schools to prepare for fall, virus testing and billions of dollars to shore up American households and small businesses facing potential ruin as the virus rages and stay-home orders resume.