WASHINGTON • Top aides to US President Donald Trump have said they agreed in principle with Senate Republicans on a US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) coronavirus relief package – the party’s opening offer in negotiations with Democrats less than a week before enhanced unemployment benefits expire.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday said the package will contain extended unemployment benefits that aim to replace 70 per cent of a laid-off worker’s previous wages.
“We’re done,” he told reporters as he left the Capitol. He said some language was being checked, but there were “no outstanding issues”.
Mr Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows would not give details, but the US$1 trillion offer was expected to include another round of direct payments to individuals, a reduced federal supplement to unemployment benefits and liability protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
An extra US$600 per week in federal jobless benefits, which economists say has propped up consumer spending and allowed laid-off workers to pay rent and mortgages, is due to expire on Friday.
The benefits were part of US$3.7 trillion in aid approved in March as the nation’s economy shut down. However, widespread business reopenings have been thwarted as the virus surges in various states, including California and Florida, which overtook New York, an early hot spot, in total cases on Sunday.
More than 149,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 – nearly a quarter of the global total – and there are over 4.3 million confirmed cases in the country, a rate of one infection in 79 people.
Before going to Capitol Hill on Sunday, Mr Mnuchin and Mr Meadows had floated the idea of a piecemeal approach to the next round of relief, addressing expiring items and leaving other issues to be tackled later. Mr Mnuchin told Fox News that the two most pressing issues were the expiring unemployment benefits, and shielding businesses, schools and universities from lawsuits.
House Democrats passed their own US$3 trillion relief Bill in May, which would keep the US$600-a-week supplement in place until the end of this year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, has criticised Republicans for not being able to agree on a plan when Americans are “on the brink” and going hungry. “They’re in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America’s families,” she told CBS’ Face The Nation.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Americans will receive a US$1,200 cheque as part of the new package, along with tax credits for small businesses and restaurants. Mr Kudlow told CNN’s State Of The Union that the package would also extend a federal moratorium of evictions contained in previous relief legislation.
US security adviser tests positive
WASHINGTON • US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, but there is no risk of exposure to President Donald Trump or Vice-President Mike Pence, the White House said in a statement.
“He has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site. There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice-President. The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted,” according to the statement.
The White House has said staff members are regularly tested for the virus, and Mr O’Brien is the most senior official to test positive amid the pandemic.
A US military member who works at the White House as a valet tested positive in May, as did Mr Pence’s press secretary.
Democrats prefer a flat amount of enhanced benefits rather than having to figure out 70 per cent of an employee’s wages, a problem for some antiquated state computer systems.
“The reason we had US$600 was its simplicity,” Mrs Pelosi said.
On liability protections, she said Democrats will not support a scenario in which workers can be told they are essential but the employer has no responsibility to make the workplace safe for them.
Mr Mnuchin told Fox News on Sunday that he was optimistic about a deal with Democrats.
“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues. We’ve moved quickly before, and I see no reason why we can’t move quickly again,” he said.