Capitol negotiators still stuck, still trying on virus aid

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Photo credit Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives for continued negotiations ahead of a meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a week’s worth of meetings, at least some clarity is emerging in the bipartisan Washington talks on a huge COVID-19 response bill. Negotiators are still stuck, but still trying.

A combative meeting Wednesday involving top Capitol Hill Democrats and the postmaster general and a souring tone from both sides indicate that a long slog remains, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows threatened afterward that President Donald Trump is exploring options to use executive authority to extend a partial eviction ban and address unemployment benefits.

After some movement Tuesday in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s direction on aid to states and local governments and unemployment insurance benefits, Wednesday's session offered no breakthroughs or major progress, participants said afterward.

“If we can reach a compromise on these big issues, I think everything else will fall into place. If we can’t reach an agreement on these big issues then I don’t see us coming to an overall deal," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said after the two-hour meeting. “And then we’ll have to look at the president taking actions under his executive authority."

Multiple issues remain, but some areas of likely agreement are coming into focus.

Here's a look where things stand based on public and private statements by key players and their staff:

JOBLESS BENEFITS

Pelosi is staking out a hard line on extending a $600-per-week supplemental pandemic federal jobless benefit, which lapsed last week. Republicans offered to extend the benefit into December and cut it to $400, according to aides confirming leaks reported in Politico. The aides were unauthorized to discuss the private talks and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The unemployment insurance issue is perhaps the most important to resolve, but some Senate Republicans up for reelection this fall appear comfortable with yielding on the question.

AID TO STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Similarly, the White House has offered Democrats $150 billion in new appropriations to help state and local governments alleviate revenue losses from the damage the coronavirus has wrought on the economy. That matches the amount appropriated after a huge behind-the-scenes battle during negotiations on the bipartisan $2 trillion coronavirus bill that passed in March. Much of that original money is left over, and all sides want greater flexibility in using it, but Pelosi is demanding far more — almost $1 trillion — and key Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mitt Romney of Utah are pressing for more money as well.

CASH/ECONOMIC STIMULUS