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Pelosi says far from coronavirus deal; more talks with White House Saturday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said talks with the White House on a coronavirus aid bill were far from a deal on Friday, as federal unemployment benefits that have been an essential lifeline for millions of Americans expired.

Asked why she rejected a proposal from Republican President Donald Trump’s administration for a one-week extension of the $600 weekly jobless payment, Pelosi told reporters a short-term fix would be appropriate “if you are on a path” toward a deal.

“We’re not,” Pelosi told a news conference.

Negotiations were to continue on Saturday between White House officials and congressional Democrats. Pelosi will host a meeting with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, an aide familiar with the planning said.

Pelosi, the nation’s top elected Democrat, said she thought Congress and the White House eventually would come together on legislation, although she gave no timetable.

Referring to the mounting cases and deaths from COVID-19, Pelosi said: “This is a freight train that is picking up steam. ... It must be stopped.”

In some of her toughest criticisms so far, she said that Republican delays on legislation and “distortions” about the pandemic “has caused death unnecessarily.”

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White House officials took their own hard partisan line, accusing Democrats of refusing Trump’s proposals to extend the jobless benefit that expired on Friday and a moratorium on evictions that ended last week.

“What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Meadows - a former Republican House member - told reporters.

Lawmakers and the White House are at odds over efforts to further shore up the economy and manage the pandemic, which has left tens of millions of Americans out of work and killed more than 152,000 people in the United States.

In a meeting on Thursday night between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders, negotiations focused on an extension of the $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits, which Americans who lost jobs because of the health crisis have been receiving in addition to state jobless payments.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent senators home for the weekend without reaching a deal.

House members left Washington on Friday, although they were told they could be called back with 24 hours’ notice for votes during August.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference ahead of House votes on "the Child Care Is Essential Act" and "the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act" in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

According to a person familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the White House proposed continuing the $600 weekly unemployment payment for one week, which Pelosi and Schumer rejected. The White House then proposed reducing the $600 weekly payment to $400 for the next four months. That was rejected as insufficient.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the White House also hinted it could embrace a deal without the legal protections from lawsuits for companies and schools that McConnell has said must be included.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans tried, without success, to pass a bill reducing the jobless benefit to $200 per week.

With 30 million people currently collecting jobless benefits, government relief represents 7.1% of American personal income. That is far above the previous record of 1.55% set in July 1975, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Democrats want a wide-ranging economic stimulus bill that would include about $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments experiencing plunging revenues during the economic downturn.

In mid-May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion bill that the Republican Senate has ignored.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Writing by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis

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