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White House chief of staff 'optimistic' pandemic aid bill deal will be reached before election

“I’m more optimistic perhaps today than I’ve been in a long time,” Mark Meadows said.

US President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows
US President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump’s chief of staff has said he is optimistic that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will reach agreement on a new pandemic emergency aid bill before the 3 November election.

However, Mark Meadows told Fox Business the president continues to oppose the massive aid to state and local governments that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for to help the recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

“I’m more optimistic perhaps today than I’ve been in a long time,” Meadows said. 

I can tell you that there’s more that we agree upon than what we disagree upon, and I think it’s time that we put politics aside, pass this stimulus.

The world’s largest economy is facing the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, with the death toll just shy of 190,000 and an economic crisis that has destroyed tens of millions of jobs.

After key provisions of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act expired at the end of July, including expanded unemployment benefits, economists and officials at the Federal Reserve have said more government aid will be needed to help American families weather the storm.

While the unemployment rate in August fell to 8.4%, data and Fed surveys show job gains and the overall recovery are slowing as the virus continues to spread.

In May, Pelosi led the House to approve a $3 trillion stimulus package, but it has languished in the Senate, after Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said lawmakers needed to “take a pause” before approving new spending.

But McConnell said today that as the Senate returns from recess, he will introduce “a new targeted proposal, focused on some of the very most urgent health care, education, and economic issues”.

McConnell intends to bring it to a vote this week, but like the House bill, it may not get much further. 

Going nowhere? 

Trump faces a tough reelection battle against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and an improving economy could help his chances. 

Failing that, Republicans could try to paint Democrats as insensitive to the needs of workers.

But Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, called McConnell’s proposal an “emaciated bill” that in fact does not address the needs of workers.

“Now, after months of inaction, Republicans are finally realising the damage their pause has done to the American economy and our nation’s health,” they said in a statement. 

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“As they scramble to make up for this historic mistake, Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere.”

Weeks of negotiations between the Democratic leadership and the White House hit an impasse in August, and the sides have traded blame over the failure to reach agreement.

Democrats have insisted on aid for state and local governments to prevent a massive wave of layoffs, which Meadows called the main “stumbling block” in the talks. 

He said the nearly $1 trillion that Pelosi has called for “is just not supported by the facts”.

Instead the administration aims to provide “targeted relief to those people that need it most,” and there is “a groundswell of support” for some kind of compromise, Meadows said.

“I’m optimistic in the next two weeks that the pressure and the voice of the American people will start to have an impact on members of Congress.”

© AFP 2020

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