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McConnell says he is ‘prepared to support’ coronavirus aid deal when Democrats, White House strike one

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speak to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 29, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials expect to meet again Tuesday as they attempt to hash out a pandemic aid package. The sides appear to have resolved few of the thorny issues at stake in the talks, even though more than a week has passed since Republicans unveiled a counteroffer to the legislation Democrats passed in May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will meet at 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, NBC News reported. Prior to the huddle, the Trump administration officials attended the Senate Republican policy lunch. 

The parties have come close to a consensus in only a few areas, such as extending funding for Paycheck Protection Program loans for small business, an administration official told CNBC on Monday night. Mnuchin has said Democrats and the GOP agreed on the need to send another direct payment of up to $1,200 to Americans. 

But neither side has budged on plans for extending extra federal unemployment insurance or offering relief to budget-crunched state and local governments, among other topics. Negotiators have failed to crack the impasse even after the $600-per-week jobless benefit and a moratorium on evictions from federally backed housing expired. The end of both policies puts millions of Americans at risk of poverty or homelessness during an economic collapse.

As the stalemate drags on, it appears unlikely Congress can pass a rescue package before the end of next week. Pelosi told Democrats on Monday she does not expect an agreement until next week, according to Politico.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats on Tuesday for what he called a refusal to move toward a deal. He said that after talks with Mnuchin and Meadows during the last eight days, Pelosi and Schumer have said they are optimistic about an agreement but have never come closer to one. 

“Every day the Democratic leaders repeat the same act here in the Capitol they’re letting down the struggling people who need our help,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. 

Democrats have repeatedly pointed to the fact that many GOP senators do not support the plan Republicans released last week. They have called the GOP proposal inadequate because it initially extends the federal jobless benefit at $200 per week and does not include funds for food, rent and mortgage assistance.

Speaking on the Senate floor after McConnell, Schumer said the parties now disagree on priorities and the “scale” of aid.

“I believe we’re making progress,” he said. “We came closer together on several issues. However, we remain far apart on a number of issues. But we’re finally moving in the right direction.”

Trump and the schools

President Donald Trump, who has not personally joined in talks with Democrats, is now considering unilateral action as Congress struggles to strike a deal. He has looked to claim credit for pandemic relief as his inability to contain the coronavirus outbreak hurts his chances of winning a second term in the White House. 

“A lot of people are going to be evicted, but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to. I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders, and we’re looking at that very seriously right now,” he said at an event at the White House on Monday. 

It is unclear what powers Trump has to stop evictions or extend unemployment insurance by executive action.

The discussions on rescue legislation come as coronavirus cases rise around the country, school districts struggle to figure out how to educate students safely and many businesses remain locked down. The U.S. has now reported more than 4.7 million Covid-19 cases and at least 155,000 deaths from the disease, both easily the most in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A range of states, many of which faced pressure to reopen before the U.S. contained the virus, either paused or rolled back their economic reopening during July. The monthly jobs report on Friday will show the extent of the damage those restrictions caused. 

Small business concerns

As the crisis drags on, lawmakers have moved to offer more relief for small businesses hit particularly hard by the outbreak. The GOP plan would offer new funds for a second round of PPP loans for companies that have seen revenue fall by more than 50%. 

Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., have pushed for congressional leaders to include a separate small business loan plan in the package. Their bill would offer seven-year loans for companies with up to 5,000 employees to cover payroll and other expenses for the next six months.

It would base forgiveness on the amount of revenue the business lost this year. 

On Tuesday, Young told CNBC he has had “very constructive conversations” with leaders about including the proposal in the next congressional package. “They’re moving in our direction,” he said. 

Bennet also told CNBC that “there are millions and millions of workers that are going lose their jobs if these small businesses go away.”

— CNBC’s Eamon Javers contributed to this report

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