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Relief Progress Slow, Urgency Grows    08/05 06:20

   Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints that Democratic 
negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus 
relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest 
concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints 
that Democratic negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping 
coronavirus relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least 
modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.

   Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting Tuesday with Trump 
administration officials to declare more progress. The Trump team agreed with 
that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions 
from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.

   "We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They 
made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they 
appreciated," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We're still 
far away on a lot of the important issues but we're continuing to go back."

   White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday's session was "probably 
the most productive meeting we've had to date." Treasury Secretary Steven 
Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of 
the week to permit a vote next week.

   "I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the 
administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that had been 
made by the Democrat negotiators," Meadows said.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a pointed reminder that she and 
Schumer are "legislators with long experience" and a track record of working 
complicated deals --- a rejoinder to critics complaining that they are being 
too tough and that the talks are taking too long.

   "We agree that we want to have an agreement," Pelosi said. "Let's engineer 
back from there as to what we have to do to get that done."

   Another glimmer of hope emerged as a key Senate Republican telegraphed that 
the party may yield to Democrats on an increase in the food stamp benefit as 
part of the huge rescue measure, which promises to far exceed a $1 trillion 
target set by the GOP.

   Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday that 
"you can make an argument that we need some kind of an increase" in food stamps 
and that he's raised the topic with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He added 
that an agreement on that issue could lead to further overall progress on the 
legislation, which remains stalled despite days of Capitol negotiations.

   "They are taking a look at it and I think we can get a positive result," 
Roberts told The Associated Press. "If we can get a breakthrough on that, it 
could lead to some other stuff."

   The food stamp issue --- left out of earlier relief bills --- is a top 
priority for Pelosi, among other powerful Democrats, who have passed a 15% 
increase in the food stamp benefit as part of their $3.5 trillion coronavirus 
relief bill.

   The overall talks are grinding ahead slowly, though urgency is growing among 
Senate Republicans, several of whom face tough election races and are eager to 
deliver a bill before heading home to campaign this month.

   Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday that the chamber should not go on 
recess without passing the huge relief measure, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, 
R-S.C., offered a jobless benefit proposal that's more generous than a pending 
GOP alternative. Both are facing closer-than-hoped reelection bids in states 
that should be easy holds for Republicans.

   Multiple obstacles remain, including an impasse on extending the 
$600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit aid to the renters facing eviction. The 
benefit has helped sustain consumer demand over recent months as the 
coronavirus has wrought havoc. Pelosi wants to extend it through January at a 
$400 billion-plus cost, while Republicans are proposing an immediate cut to 
$200 and then replacing the benefit with a cumbersome system that would attempt 
to provide 70% of a worker's "replacement wage."

   They are also pressing for funding for the Postal Service. Schumer and 
Pelosi summoned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to the Capitol on Wednesday to 
discuss the agency's worsening performance and need for emergency funding.

   "We've seen the delay of mail, and we're very worried about that affect on 
the election," Schumer said.

   On the Senate floor, McConnell, R-Ky., continued to protest that Democrats 
are taking too tough a line. But he signaled he's far more flexible now than he 
was weeks ago.

   "The American people in the end need help," McConnell told reporters. "And 
wherever this thing settles between the president ... and the Democrats is 
something I am prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain 
parts of it."

   Most members of the Democratic-controlled House have left Washington and 
won't return until there is an agreement to vote on, but the GOP-held Senate is 
trapped in the capital.

   Areas of agreement already include another round of $1,200 direct payments 
and changes to the Paycheck Protection Program to permit especially hard-hit 
businesses to obtain another loan under generous forgiveness terms.

   The House passed a $3.5 trillion measure in May, but Republicans controlling 
the Senate have demanded a slower approach, saying it was necessary to take a 
"pause" before passing additional legislation. Since they announced that 
strategy, however, coronavirus caseloads have spiked and the economy has 
absorbed an enormous blow.

   The Senate GOP draft measure carries a $1.1 trillion price tag, according to 
an estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Republicans have 
not released any estimates of their own.

 
 
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