Democrats, Republicans blame each other as COVID-19 relief talks stall


U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday blamed each other for the impasse over the next COVID-19 relief package, as senators returned to Capitol Hill for the first time since early August.

In a statement, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote on a “targeted” COVID-19 relief proposal as soon as this week, and accused Democratic leaders of blocking Republicans’ previous proposals “for perceived partisan gain.”

“Everything Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer have done suggests one simple motivation: They do not want American families to see any more bipartisan aid before the polls close on President Trump’s re-election,” McConnell said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

In response, Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement that Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which “doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere.”

“This emaciated bill is only intended to help vulnerable Republican Senators by giving them a ‘check the box’ vote to maintain the appearance that they’re not held hostage by their extreme right-wing that doesn’t want to spend a nickel to help people,” said the Democratic leaders.

House Democrats unveiled a 3-trillion-dollar relief proposal in May, which didn’t gain support from the Republicans. Senate Republicans released their 1-trillion-dollar proposal in late July, but lawmakers failed to bridge their differences before the August recess.

The extra 600-dollar federal unemployment benefits, part of a 2-trillion-dollar relief package approved in late March, expired at the end of July. The Senate Republicans’ 1-trillion-dollar relief proposal would slash the federal benefits to 200 dollars through September, and then give an unemployed worker about 70 percent of previous wages when combined with state benefits, while Democrats want to maintain the 600-dollar benefits through January.

In early August, U.S. President Donald Trump, in an attempt to move around Congress, signed several orders to extend certain COVID-19 economic relief, including one to extend extra unemployment benefits through the end of the year at a reduced level of 400 dollars per week.

In the new statement, McConnell said the Senate Republican majority is introducing a new “targeted” proposal, focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues, implying that the new bill is going to be smaller than the 1-trillion-dollar package previously proposed.

The new bill is expected to include renewed weekly federal unemployment benefits, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses, more money for testing and schools, as well as liability protections for companies and healthcare providers against COVID-19-related lawsuits, according to a report from the Hill.

Democratic leaders criticized the bill for failing to help state and local workers facing layoffs, feed hungry families, provide adequate funding for testing and treatment to fight the pandemic, help renters keep the roof over the heads, as well as stop the dismantling of the U.S. Postal system and “make sure Americans can cast their ballots safely in fair elections this November.”

In a tweet, Pelosi noted that it’s been 116 days since the House passed the Heroes Act, referring to the 3-trillion-dollar relief bill proposed by House Democrats, urging the Republicans to stop blocking efforts to pass it into law.

Economists have warned that the U.S. economy is at serious risk of sliding back into recession if the White House and Congress couldn’t reach a deal on another fiscal rescue package in the coming months.

Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said last week that U.S. economic recovery remains “fragile”, requiring further fiscal support to move into a “more sustained recovery” phase from the reopening phase.

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