Aug 01, 2020
Negotiators huddle in Capitol after $600 extra jobless benefit expires as coronavirus cases rise
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With political pressure rising, talks in Congress on a huge coronavirus relief measure resumed on Saturday, focused on restoring a newly expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit, a fresh $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in other aid to states, businesses and the poor.
President Donald Trump is eager for an agreement, but talks so far have not yielded progress. The administration is willing to extend the $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term, but is balking at other demands of Democratic negotiators like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.
Unemployment insurance is a principal element as the COVID-19 relief bill is expected to grow considerably from a $1 trillion-plus GOP draft released this week.
The $600 per week jobless benefit officially lapsed on Friday and Democrats have made it clear that they will not extend it without securing other relief priorities. Whatever unemployment aid negotiators agree on will be made retroactive — but antiquated state unemployment systems are likely to take weeks to restore the benefits.
Principal negotiators — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — convened again Saturday in hopes of breaking a weeklong stalemate.
“I’m hoping we’ll make progress and I think we will,” Pelosi said as she entered the Capitol.
The two sides had taken their case to the media Friday morning, with Meadows speaking to reporters on short notice at the exact moment Pelosi appeared at her weekly news conference.
The White House on Thursday offered a one-week extension of the $600 weekly unemployment benefit, top Democrats said. Pelosi rejected it, saying the issue needs to be addressed as part of a far more sweeping bill that would deliver aid to state and local governments, help for the poor and funding for schools and colleges to address the pandemic. Without action, the unemployment benefit ran out Friday — and both the House and Senate have left Washington.
“Clearly they did not understand the gravity of the situation,” Pelosi said. A short-term extension only makes sense if the two sides are close to a deal, she added.
“Why don’t we just get the job done?” she asked.
An aide familiar with the talks said Pelosi rejected an administration offer of a four-month extension of the benefit at $400 per week, combined with additional provisions for particularly hard-hit businesses and a shield against lawsuits for businesses, schools and other entities that reopen as the pandemic continues to rage.
Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 jobless benefit in the next coronavirus package, but their resolve weakened as the expiration of the popular benefit neared. Trump undercut their position by signaling he wants to keep the full $600 benefit for now.
On Friday, Trump took to Twitter to explicitly endorse extending the $600 payment and to criticize top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.
“Very disappointed in @SenSchumer for blocking the temporary extension of the $600 unemployment benefits. The Do Nothing Democrats are more interested in playing politics than in helping our deserving people,” Trump tweeted.
Washington’s top power players agree that Congress must pass further relief in the coming days and weeks.
Democrats hold a strong negotiating hand — exploiting GOP divisions — and they are expected to deliver a necessary trove of votes.
Both sides say the talks have not produced much progress, but they could be nearing a critical phase over the weekend and into next week. The pending COVID-19 rescue bill, the fifth since the pandemic has struck, is likely the last one before the November election.
Republicans controlling the Senate have kept the relief measure on “pause” in a strategy aimed at reducing its price tag. But as the pandemic has worsened in past weeks — and as fractures inside the GOP have eroded the party’s negotiating position — Republicans displayed some greater flexibility.
Also at issue in the negotiations is an almost $1 trillion Democratic demand for funding for state and local governments, a second $1,200 direct payment to most American adults, more than $100 billion to help schools reopen and a liability shield measure that is essential to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Meadows played a role in killing an increase in food aid during talks on a $2 trillion relief bill in March, but Democrats are pressing hard for a boost in food stamp benefits. Republicans added $20 billion for agribusinesses but nothing for greater food stamp benefits.
“Traditionally we’ve had a partnership between farms and families, and they’ve consistently broken that,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
See also: U.S. added 1.9 million coronavirus cases in July
News Source: marketwatch.com
Michael Forcia, 56, Charged With Toppling Of Christopher Columbus Statue
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A New Brighton man has been charged with a felony for the toppling of the Christopher Columbus statue outside of the State Capitol earlier this summer.
Charges were filed in Ramsey County against 56-year-old Michael Forcia on Thursday, in relation to the June 10 incident.
Protesters on the scene said Columbus was responsible for Native American genocide, and it was time for the statue to go. It was part of a wave of actions against historic monuments across the country and parts of Europe that are connected to racism and slavery — spurred by protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office says that Forcia acknowledged he would be held accountable for his actions in organizing the protest. Attorney John Choi said it’s possible others might be charged as well, but said that Forcia was the main organizers behind the efforts to pull the statue down.
The complaint says that Forcia was provided with a copy of the legal process for removing monuments from the Capitol grounds, but he replied that they had gone through those processes before and intended on “taking it down today.”
RELATED: Charges Expected After Christopher Columbus Statue Toppled At Minnesota Capitol
Estimates on repairing the statue are estimated over $150,000.
“Given the impact of this action on residents across our state and the divisive reactions it has engendered, we believe administering justice in this case requires an extraordinary step — the active engagement and participation of our community,” Choi said.
The attorney’s office said they’re working to develop a “restorative process” that gives voice to those who hold divergent opinions, while still holding people accountable and at the same time healing the community.