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Barack Obama

As White House pushes 'skinny' COVID-19 bill, Democrat sees September action

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday pushed for Congress to take up a narrow coronavirus economic relief bill that Democrats have long rejected, while a leading Senate Democrat said real action may come soon after the Sept. 7 U.S. Labor Day holiday.

FILE PHOTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrive at the U.S. Capitol building, in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2020. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

With the breakdown of talks between the White House and top congressional Democrats now in its 12th day, Senate Republicans are floating a “skinny” version of the $1 trillion bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a possible vote in the Republican-led chamber.

That bill ran into immediate opposition from both Democrats and McConnell’s own Republicans when he unveiled it late last month.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called on Democrats to use Saturday’s vote on U.S. Postal Service legislation in the House of Representatives as a vehicle for coronavirus relief including stimulus checks for individuals and funding for personal protective equipment and schools.

“I think the outlook for a skinny deal is better than it’s ever been and yet we are still not there,” Meadows told reporters. “If Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi moves forward a single bill on postal ... let’s add in the things we can agree upon.”

But leading Democrats have flatly rejected White House and Republican calls for narrow legislation, saying Americans need broad legislation and accusing Republicans of failing to grasp the severity of the crisis.

House Democratic leaders are resisting calls by some centrist Democrats, including Representative Derek Kilmer, to hold a separate vote Saturday on extending federal unemployment benefits.

“Saturday focus is postal,” a senior Democratic aide said, adding that there’s “still more consensus building in (the) caucus to be done.”

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said that he does not expect the White House to get serious about negotiations until after next week’s Republican presidential election convention, where he expects Republicans to tout President Donald Trump’s executive orders on coronavirus relief.

“Once we get out of the Republican convention, the week before Labor Day, you’re going to see serious negotiations restart. And that means we could do something possibly right after Labor Day, when we return,” Kaine said in an online interview with Politico.

The Senate is due to return from recess on Sept. 8 and the House on Sept. 14.

Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell, additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

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