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McConnell opens door to smaller coronavirus relief deal


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer: Trump should want COVID-19 deal to help GOP election chances Republican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal Lawmakers, public bid farewell to John Lewis MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday appeared to open the door to a smaller coronavirus relief package than the proposal unveiled by Republicans earlier this week. 

McConnell, asked about soon-to-expire unemployment benefits, said that neither party wants them to expire, which is set to formally happen on Friday. 

“Many things around here happen at the last minute. This is only Wednesday, so hope springs eternal that we’ll reach some kind of agreement either on a broad basis or a more narrow basis to avoid having an adverse impact on unemployment,” McConnell told PBS Newshour.

Asked if he was seriously looking at either a smaller bill or a short-term option, he added, “we’re looking at all options.”

McConnell’s remarks, the first time he’s appeared open to a smaller bill, come as top Trump administration officials and a growing number of Republican lawmakers have signaled an openness to getting a pared down agreement as talks with Democrats have yielded little progress. 

What would be included in a smaller agreement has not been agreed upon, with GOP senators saying a myriad of ideas were being discussed as they try to break the stalemate. 

Some Republicans have floated doing a stand-alone vote on a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, but White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal Democrats, GOP appear far apart on COVID-19 relief deal Overnight Health Care: Marlins outbreak casts harsh light on US coronavirus response | Senate GOP’s COVID-19 response sets up battle over Medicaid | Virginia imposes new restrictions in part of state MORE appeared to shoot that down, saying it had been ruled out by Democrats and the plus-up benefits will expire on Friday. 

Under the March coronavirus deal, Congress agreed to a $600 per week plus-up of unemployment benefits. As drafted, they will formally expire on Friday, but because of the calendar and how states distribute benefits, they began to expire on Saturday, July 25. 

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinRepublican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal Democrats, GOP appear far apart on COVID-19 relief deal Overnight Health Care: Marlins outbreak casts harsh light on US coronavirus response | Senate GOP’s COVID-19 response sets up battle over Medicaid | Virginia imposes new restrictions in part of state MORE have met each day this week with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi bashes Barr after testimony: ‘He was like a blob’ and ‘henchman’ for Trump Republican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal Lawmakers, public bid farewell to John Lewis MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer say GOP Senate coronavirus bill is ‘selling out working families’ The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Barr’s showdown with House Democrats GOP senator deletes ad that showed Jewish opponent with larger nose MORE (D-N.Y.) to try to reach an agreement. But after their latest powwow on Wednesday, they were frank about the lack of progress being made so far. 

“We’re still miles apart on a number of issues,” Meadows said. “In fact, I would say there are more issues we’re apart on than where we’re closer to consensus.” 

With that in mind, Mnuchin said, Trump is still pressing for a short-term extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits along with some kind of assistance for renters who would otherwise face eviction threats. 

“The president wants us most focused on this issue of enhanced unemployment,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin also pointed to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), school funding, retention tax credits, rental assistance and a bipartisan proposal providing $10 billion to community development banks as areas where a deal appears likely.

Meadows and Mnuchin also noted areas where they remain far apart include liability protections for businesses and a new round of funding for state and local governments.  

“We are still very part apart on a lot of issues,” Mnuchin said. “I do think there’s a subset of issues that we do agree on, but overall we’re far from an agreement.”

Mike Lillis contributed 



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