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Sticking points in stimulus bill talks as benefits expire

People wait in a Food Bank For New

People wait in a Food Bank For New York City distribution line Wednesday outside Manhattan's Lincoln Center amid unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity during the coronavirus economic downturn. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Heins

Phase 4 impasse

Congressional leaders and Trump administration officials met behind closed doors on Saturday, but they were no closer to reaching a deal on the fifth coronavirus stimulus package as aid and rental assistance under the CARES Act expired on Friday.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, appearing Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation," said he was “not optimistic there’ll be a solution in the near-term.” Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC’s "This Week": “We’ll be close to an agreement when we have an agreement.” The negotiations are to resume Monday.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said a deal on what’s been dubbed the “Phase 4” stimulus package needs to include renewing a $600 enhanced unemployment benefit, protecting renters and homeowners and providing funding for state and local governments and schools.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said the unemployment benefit should be tied to individuals’ previous wages and criticized Democrats for turning down a one-week extension. Mnuchin said the Trump administration was opposed to providing local government aid, calling it a “bailout.”

Pelosi countered that not providing aid to local governments would ultimately cost the government more money because of unemployment benefits that will be needed after layoffs.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a news conference Sunday morning that the coronavirus “has put about 1.8 million New Yorkers on unemployment, risks nearly a million people evicted and marks a financial doomsday for local budgets that support sanitation workers, firefighters, teachers and more.” For more highlights from the Sunday morning political shows, read Newsday’s story by Rachelle Blidner with Michael O'Keeffe.

Stimulus spending on LI, in NYC

The debate over whether the next relief package should include aid to local governments hardest-hit by the pandemic comes as a recent report by the inspector general for the Treasury Department indicates that Suffolk and Nassau counties have largely used all the money provided to them under the CARES Act, which was signed into law in late March.

Newsday’s Tom Brune reports that New York City — the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic until about a week ago — reported it had spent 99.6% of the $1.45 billion it received.

Nassau County said it spent all of its $103 million in funding; Suffolk County said it spent nearly three-quarters of its $257 million.

Those were three of the 15 states, cities or counties that had spent more than half of their allotment, among the 200 recipients of the $150 billion fund for state and local governments provided by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

Not all local governments that received coronavirus aid have been quick to spend.

The Town of Hempstead, which won a $133 million allotment based on its large population, told the Treasury inspector general it has used only 5%, about $6.8 million.

Another bid to lick SALT cap

Schumer, speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Sunday, said Democrats hope the next coronavirus relief bill will remove the Trump administration’s cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, but he acknowledged it's an uphill battle because of fierce opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Schumer said the deduction cap is especially unfair to Long Island homeowners. He added that he will push for its removal when he returns to Washington on Monday to resume negotiations on the coronavirus relief bill with Mnuchin and Meadows, reports Newsday’s O’Keeffe.

“We made good progress, and I am hopeful we can get to an agreement,” Schumer said of the talks held Saturday.

Two-week notice

It was two Sundays ago that Trump promised in a sit-down interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace that in two weeks, he would sign a new health care plan.

“We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan,” Trump said in a July 19 interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday.” Wallace had asked him about his opposition to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

The president repeated the claim when asked about the pending deadline by reporters in Florida on Friday.

“We’re going to be doing a health care plan. We’re going to be doing a very inclusive health care plan. I’ll be signing it sometime very soon,” Trump said. “Might be Sunday. But it’s going to be very soon.”

Two weeks have now passed, and there’s not a health care plan nor proposal in sight, notes The Washington Post.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, told the Post the president is likely referring to a “fairly comprehensive” executive order that’s in the works.

Janison: Vaccine logistics a logical question

As the U.S. continues to struggle with the distribution of COVID-19 tests and timely return of their results, health experts are already raising concerns about whether the Trump administration is equipped to widely distribute a vaccine for the disease once it has been approved.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, the administration has had to scramble to ramp up production of testing kits, medical protective gear and lifesaving medical equipment.

As hopes increase for approval of a vaccine in the next few months, discussion is underway about how the government will distribute needed supplies and galvanize the public to accept the shots — especially when simple mask-wearing still is controversial in some Trump circles, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before a House committee on Friday that he is "cautiously optimistic" for a safe and effective vaccine by the “end of this year and as we go into 2021.” Distribution may have to be phased in, he said.

Topping the priority list could be critical workers, such as medical personnel, or vulnerable patients, such as older adults with underlying health problems.

“But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” said Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases official.

Bipartisan consensus on election

Democrats and Republicans making the Sunday talk show rounds were largely in agreement in their opposition to any suggestion the Nov. 3 election be delayed.

Trump caused an uproar Thursday when he floated the idea in a tweet, but lawmakers and legal scholars were quick to point out that the Constitution gives only Congress the power to set an election date, and McConnell and Pelosi swiftly rejected the notion of a delay.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, told CNN's "State of the Union" he believes Trump is setting the stage to remain in office should he lose the election to former Vice President Joe Biden.

"I don't think he plans to leave the White House," Clyburn said of Trump. "He doesn't plan to have fair and unfettered elections. I believe that he plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold on to office."

Clyburn likened Trump to Benito Mussolini, the dictator who ruled Italy for two decades.

Asked about Trump's suggested delay, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), told CNN: "It's not helpful for the president to think out loud in a public fashion."

Meadows, appearing on "Face the Nation," shrugged off the controversy, saying: "We're going to hold an election on Nov. 3, and the president is going to win."

Watching Biden's veepstakes

Biden, who set up a committee to vet potential vice-presidential candidates in April, has said he hopes to make a decision on his running mate by the first week of August. 

The Biden campaign has been tight-lipped on when he'll announce his decision, but Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, and former White House national security adviser Susan Rice are all reported to be among the leading contenders.

Clyburn, who delivered a critical endorsement for Biden before he won the South Carolina primary, told Axios the presumptive Democratic nominee is basing his decision "upon three things and three things only: Vetting, polling and, as Joe Biden would put it, who's 'simpatico' with him."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump is headed to Southampton on Saturday for a $50,000-per-person campaign fundraiser, reports Newsday’s Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
  • As the president pushes for schools to fully reopen in the fall, CNN reports that the private school attended by his youngest son, Barron, is under an order not to resume in-person instruction until Oct. 1.
  • The Republican National Committee told The Washington Post that no final decision has been made on whether the media will be barred from attending Trump’s renomination at the upcoming GOP convention in North Carolina. An RNC spokesperson previously told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that all of the convention’s events would be “closed press” due to the coronavirus restrictions.
  • Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in the impeachment hearings against Trump, recently retired after a storied military career, saying he felt to do so after a “campaign of bullying” by Trump. In a Washington Post op-ed, Vindman, who raised concerns about the president’s communications with Ukraine, wrote: “At no point in my career or life have I felt our nation’s values under greater threat and in more peril than at this moment.”
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday reiterated Trump’s vow to ban TikTok, which both men claim is being used by the Chinese Communist Party to collect data from its users. But operators of the popular video app say they plan to fight the decision, according to The Associated Press. On Sunday, Microsoft confirmed it's in talks to buy the U.S. arm of TikTok.

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