By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top congressional Democrats and White House officials will try again on Thursday to find a compromise on legislation that would enable Congress to come to the aid of Americans reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As talks neared the end of their second week, the four principal negotiators appeared to be near agreement on some topics, but still trillions of dollars apart on major issues including the size of a federal benefit for tens of millions of unemployed workers.
“We’re trying to get a deal that’s good for the American public and American workers,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after nearly two hours of talks on Wednesday.
“Our objective is to try to reach an understanding of the major issues by Friday. If we can’t reach an agreement on the major issues, it’s going to be hard to complete a deal.”
Mnuchin was due to join fellow Republican Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and the two top congressional Democrats, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, for talks on Capitol Hill.
Others not in the negotiation room considered their own actions, as Republican senators said they had been told that no deal by Friday would mean no deal at all.
President Donald Trump stood ready to use executive orders to address issues such as unemployment benefits and protections against evictions if talks failed, according to Meadows.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio told reporters that the Senate on Thursday could also take up a new version of the Payroll Protection Program that provides financial assistance to small businesses in the form of forgivable loans.
Congress passed more than $3 trillion in relief legislation early in the pandemic. But lawmakers missed a deadline last week to extend the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment payments that played a key role in propping up the economy.
Pelosi and Schumer have pushed for a comprehensive package of assistance for the unemployed, the poor, hospitals, schools and state and local governments.
“The leader and I are determined that we will come to agreement. But it has to meet the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said.
Mnuchin has warned that the Trump administration would not accept “anything close” to the $3.4 trillion in new aid sought by Democrats. Senate Republicans have proposed a $1 trillion package that many of their own members have rejected.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; writing by David Morgan; Editing by Leslie Adler)