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Democrats, White House still at odds over extra coronavirus unemployment benefits

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will meet with congressional leaders every day until there’s agreement on phase four coronavirus relief after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the two sides can’t even agree on the basics.

“We must defeat this virus, and that is one of the points we still have not come to any agreement on. … If we’re going to open our economy and have our children be in schools, we have to defeat the virus, and that is one of the contentious issues that we have to deal with,” Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Mnuchin pushed back against Pelosi’s claims and said both sides understand the need to kill the virus. However, disagreements about extending federally enhanced coronavirus unemployment benefits, which expired Friday, are holding negotiations up.

“The president is very concerned about the expiration of the unemployment insurance,” Mnuchin told “This Week.” “We proposed a one-week extension at $600 so that, while we negotiate a longer term solution, at least all those people don’t lose their money. I’m surprised the Democrats won’t agree to that. They’re insistent on having a larger deal.”

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House Democrats also want to send $1 trillion to state and local governments to help combat the virus, but that’s “something we’re not going to do,” Mnuchin said.

Pelosi did not seem willing to compromise on the extra $600 a week.

“President Trump … is the one who is standing in the way of that. We have been for the $600. They have a $200 proposal, which does not meet the needs of America’s working families,” Pelosi said. “The amount of money that is given as an enhancement … should relate to the rate of unemployment. As that goes down, you can consider something less than $600.”

Lawmakers reported progress on a huge coronavirus relief bill Saturday, as political pressure mounts to restore an expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit and send funding to help schools reopen.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, right, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, arrive at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol to resume talks on a COVID-19 relief bill, Aug. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“This was the longest meeting we’ve had and it was more productive than the other meetings,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who was part of the rare weekend session. “We’re not close yet, but it was a productive discussion — now each side knows where they’re at.”

Schumer spoke alongside Pelosi after meeting for three hours with Mnuchin and Meadows.

The Democratic leaders are eager for an expansive agreement, as are President Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But perhaps one half of Senate Republicans, mostly conservatives and those not facing difficult races this fall, are likely to oppose any deal.

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Prior talks had yielded little progress and Saturday’s cautious optimism was a break from gloomy private assessments among GOP negotiators. The administration is willing to extend the newly expired $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term, but is balking at other Democratic demands like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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