Trump to try going it alone on coronavirus aid after talks with Congress break down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House officials trying to reach an agreement on new coronavirus laws will advise President Donald Trump to act himself to provide relief to pandemic-stricken Americans after talks with top Democrats collapsed in Congress on Friday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said they would recommend Trump issue executive orders over the weekend to resume improved unemployment benefits, reinstate an eviction moratorium, and address other issues.

“The president wants us to make a deal. But unfortunately we made no progress today, ”Mnuchin told reporters after he and Meadows met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Chairman Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill for nearly 90 minutes.

The global pandemic hit the United States particularly hard, killing more than 160,000 people and leaving tens of millions of people unemployed. Trump initially downplayed the threat of the disease, criticizing inconsistent messages on public health steps like social distancing and masks.

Friday's talks seemed to mark the end of nearly two weeks of almost daily negotiations between the four heads of state or government who have tried to work out a legislative agreement to resume the COVID-19 relief programs that expired in late July.

Democrats said they had offered to reduce a proposed $ 3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package, which the House passed in May but ignored by the Senate, by nearly a third if Republicans agreed, their counteroffer more than double from $ 1 trillion.

Trump's negotiators refused.

"It was a disappointing meeting," Schumer told reporters.

Both sides said they were open to further negotiations.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks next to Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, USA, on August 7, 2020. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst

"I'll be back here anytime to listen to new suggestions," said Mnuchin, who identified the roadblocks as funding for state and local governments and an extension of increased unemployment benefits, a $ 600 a week lifeline for those who work in the EU have lost coronavirus crisis.

Pelosi said she gave him and Meadows a stern goodbye message, "Come back when you're ready to give us a higher number."

Trump has also said he could use an executive order to defer wage tax payments to boost the volatile U.S. economy as he seeks re-election in November.

However, it was unclear how much a president could do by order of the executive branch. At a press conference, Schumer said the president could not order new money – since that was the power of Congress – but only postpone the costs until they were finally paid.

LIMITATIONS OF EXECUTIVE POWER

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over federal spending, so Trump does not have the legal authority to issue executive orders that determine how money should be spent on coronavirus.

Trump previously managed to bypass Congress on spending. In 2019, he declared a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border in order to shift billions of dollars from the defense budget to pay for a border wall he promised in the 2016 election campaign.

Schumer blamed 20 Republicans in the Senate, who were heavily influenced by the conservative Tea Party, for the lack of progress: “They don't want to spend the dollars necessary to get America out of this chaos. The ideology kind of blinds them. "

According to Pelosi, the Democrats want the largest possible number for reviving the expired increased unemployment benefits. The renewal of this advantage was one of the leading demands of the Democrats.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks during a business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve subpoenas related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and other matters on Capitol Hill in Washington June 11, 2020. Carolyn Kaster / Pool about REUTERS

The White House once proposed $ 400 a week for federal unemployment benefits, but the Democrats turned it down and refused to sign a separate deal. They wanted a comprehensive package that included money for state and local governments and other matters.

Trump expressed the question of aid to state and local governments biased and wrote on Twitter: "Pelosi and Schumer are only interested in bailouts for poorly run democratic cities and states. Nothing to do with China Virus! Do you want a trillion dollars. No interest. We're going a different way! "

More than 300 U.S. mayors sent a letter to Trump this week asking for $ 250 billion in direct federal aid to cities across the country. The governors of both parties in the US have asked Congress for an additional $ 500 billion.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting from Pete Schroeder, David Lawder, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Susan Cornwell in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Writing by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis

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