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GOP's COVID-19 relief bill outlined by Mnuchin, Meadows

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration is opposed to maintaining the $600-a-week enhanced unemployment payment Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

White House officials on Sunday pushed to approve coronavirus relief aid in stages, angering Democrats who urged immediate passage of wide-ranging and long-term aid to Americans struggling with unemployment and the battered economy.

Republicans are set to introduce a $1 trillion spending bill on Monday, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who spoke Sunday morning in televised interviews.

The Trump administration opposes an extension of a $600-a-week enhanced unemployment payment that expired this month, Mnuchin and Meadows said. Instead, White House officials favor a plan to reimburse an individual's lost wages or salary by up to 70%, said Mnuchin and Meadows.

On ABC's "This Week," Meadows outlined what the Trump administration could immediately support. "I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit, to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace, helping with our schools," he said. 

Meadows added that if Congress can pass those measures, "we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come."

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Republicans have waited too long to negotiate for additional relief. In May, the Democratic-led House passed a fifth, $3 trillion relief bill that would have extended benefits to the unemployed and economically distressed, provided aid to state and local governments, and expanded testing and contact tracing.

Republicans, she said on CBS's "Face the Nation," are "in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America's families. So we have been ready for two months and 10 days. I've been here all weekend hoping they had something to give us."

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Mnuchin said the White House was "prepared to act quickly."

Mnuchin said the package would extend unemployment benefits and ensure that schools and universities are afforded protection against "frivolous" lawsuits related to reopening. Republicans support COVID-19 legal protections for schools, businesses, and other corporations, both big and small.

"Within the trillion-dollar package, there's certain things that have time frames that are a bigger priority, so we could look at doing an entire deal, we could also look at doing parts," he said.

He said he would push for a "technical fix" to the unemployment insurance program. Some have criticized the $600-a-week benefit as too high, incentivizing individuals to stay home and collect the benefit.

The fix would ensure "that people don't get paid more to stay home than they do to work, and we can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues," Mnuchin said.

He added: "The fair thing is to replace wages, and it just wouldn't be fair to use taxpayer dollars to pay more people to sit home than they would get working and get a job."

Pelosi said last week that Democrats would not accept a "piecemeal" approach to a deal. 

The Speaker on Sunday said it's easier for the government to provide a $600 payment to the unemployed than to calculate what 70% of each worker's salary was. 

"The reason we had $600 was its simplicity," Pelosi said. "And figuring out 70% of somebody's wages. People don't all make a salary … They make wages and they sometimes have it vary. So why don't we just keep it simple?"

Also Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed for approval of a comprehensive relief bill.

Speaking at a Manhattan news conference, Schumer said enhanced unemployment insurance and protections for renters and homeowners are expiringPlummeting revenue to state and local governments may soon trigger massive layoffs in the public sector, Schumer said.

He urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to "stop the dithering, start negotiating, put a bill on the floor of the Senate ASAP.”

“Millions of New Yorkers could be hurt this week unless the Senate and Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, take action,” he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a Sunday news conference that the end of the $600 payment "is going to really cause havoc and tremendous distress for people. If the unemployment stops, Washington is playing politics, they have gridlock."

He called on all Republican elected officials in New York "to stand united with the people of the state, encouraging support for New York State."

He added: "If we don't get state aid from Washington, it's going to be a very bad situation for this state and the people in this state."

With Jesse Coburn

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