With Jobless Aid Set to Lapse, Senate Fails to Agree on Extension

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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday dissolved into partisan bickering over a sweeping economic stabilization package, clashing over dueling proposals but failing to reach an agreement to prevent the expiration on Friday of jobless aid that tens of millions of Americans have depended on for months.

Senate Republicans, on largely party lines, ultimately forced the chamber to begin moving forward with a continuation of the unemployment benefits at a much lower rate, but it was mainly a tactic to compel Democrats, who support maintaining the payments at $600 per week, to go on the record opposing an extension. There was no agreement on a way forward.

The bitter impasse over any form of coronavirus relief persisted despite news that the United States economy wiped away nearly five years of growth in the second quarter of 2020, with the tally of new claims for state unemployment benefits exceeding one million for the 19th consecutive week. With several programs that have staved off a wave of evictions, foreclosures and layoffs either expired or set to end in days, economists warn that a lapse could wreak further havoc on an already shuddering economy.

“I’m not very optimistic that we will have any kind of an agreement on a comprehensive bill in the near future,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said before a meeting Thursday evening on Capitol Hill with top Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “I’m not even optimistic about next week.”

Mr. Meadows indicated that he and Mr. Mnuchin, the lead negotiators for the White House, would continue to press Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, to agree to a narrow measure that would continue the unemployment benefits and revive an expired federal moratorium on evictions. But Democrats have rejected the idea, saying that would sap momentum for other critically needed aid.

Some Republicans have also panned the prospect of leaving other provisions for later.

“There’s certain aspects that I think have to be in there,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, before ticking off a number of provisions, such as school funding, assistance for small businesses and money for testing. “This is what happens when you start going through the bill; there’s so many priorities that simply have to receive funding in order for us to help minimize the impact of the virus.”

But many Republicans are wary of any additional spending to stabilize the economy, saying the nearly $3 trillion in cumulative relief measures enacted in quick succession in the spring had swollen the deficit.

Faced with significant pressure to prevent the expiration of the unemployment insurance benefit, Republicans worked feverishly to coalesce around a stopgap bill that could extend it, though most proposals unveiled this week would slash the aid and present overwhelmed state systems with a difficult switch that experts say is likely to disadvantage lower-wage workers.

One such proposal, which Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Braun of Indiana tried to push across the Senate floor on Thursday, would have continued the extra jobless aid payments through the end of the year, but slashed the payments to $200 a week from $600 or allow the benefit to replace two-thirds of a worker’s prior income.

Mr. Meadows said President Trump would support a flat, one-week extension of the $600 benefit in order to buy lawmakers time to negotiate a longer agreement. But Democrats rejected an attempt by Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, to win approval of such an extension, with Mr. Schumer dismissing the effort as “a stunt” on the Senate floor.

“This is disappointing and a political stunt and a game,” Ms. McSally, who is badly trailing her Democratic opponent in Arizona’s Senate race, shot back. “It’s the minority leader who is against this on his path to try to become the majority leader, and that’s unfortunate.”

Mr. Schumer, his flip phone ringing in his pocket, spent a portion of his day on the Senate floor, swatting last-ditch attempts by Republicans to push through short extensions of the jobless aid and to try to pin the blame on Democrats for blocking them. He responded with a futile and politically loaded tactic of his own: an attempt to win approval of the $3 trillion stimulus package House Democrats passed in May. Republicans blocked that as well, with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, deriding it as “a totally unserious proposal.”

“The House speaker moves the goal posts while the Democratic leader hides the football,” said Mr. McConnell, accusing Democrats of blocking discussions among rank-and-file lawmakers. “They won’t engage when the administration tries to discuss our comprehensive plan. They won’t engage when the administration floats a narrower proposal. They basically won’t engage, period.”

Comparing negotiations with Republicans to “trying to nail Jell-O to the wall,” Mr. Schumer noted that Mr. McConnell, whose conference remained divided over another relief package, was notably absent from the daily negotiations with administration officials in Ms. Pelosi’s Capitol Hill suite. The time crunch, he said, came because Republicans had “dithered for months” and still had yet to reach agreement on the $1 trillion proposal they had put forward on Monday.

“Get in the room and negotiate a real deal,” Mr. Schumer said. “And stop doing stunts that simply are political, get-it-off-my-back, that you know cannot pass.”

Luke Broadwater and Aishvarya Kavi contributed reporting.

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