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Hard lines, testy attitudes keeping Washington from a virus deal

Hope evaporates for speedy resolution as both sides dig in

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, speak to reporters following a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. as they continue to negotiate a coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, speak to reporters following a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. as they continue to negotiate a coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — Hopes that talks on a huge COVID-19 relief deal would generate an agreement soon are fizzling, with both the Trump administration negotiating team and top congressional Democrats adopting hard lines and testy attitudes.

Now that President Donald Trump has issued a series of executive edicts and the national political conventions are set to begin, consuming the attention of both Trump and top Democrats, the talks seem to be on an indefinite pause. The urgency has evaporated now that rank-and-file lawmakers have been set free for the August recess, and it’s looking more like a September legislating effort than an August one.

The impasse leaves millions of jobless people without a $600-per-week pandemic bonus jobless benefit that has helped families stay afloat, leaves state and local governments seeking fiscal relief high and dry, and holds back a more than $100 billion school aid package. Money for other priorities, including the election, may come too late, if at all.

Here’s a look at the key obstacles to an agreement:

• DEMOCRATIC HARDBALL: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s displaying her stern streak in her dealings with top Republicans, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, have adopted hardball negotiating tactics as they survey a tactical landscape that favors them. They have given some ground on the overall price tag, but say it’s up to Republicans to acknowledge the scope of the crisis.

• WHITE HOUSE INEXPERIENCE: Meadows made his name in Washington — and he’s unpopular in many quarters in both parties — as a tea party bomb-thrower who forced out former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2015. Meadows has never been a consensus builder and he seems focused on tending to Trump’s conservative flank and trying to make sure that whatever deal is reached doesn’t divide Republicans too badly. As such, he’s been taking a hard line with Pelosi, and they have been unable to forge a productive relationship and have taken their backbiting public.

• GOP SPLITS: Any upcoming bill is sure to be opposed by many GOP conservatives, who are already agitating for the party to try to reclaim its long-abandoned focus on deficits and debt.

Many Republicans oppose the generous jobless benefits, viewing them as a disincentive to work, and are against other social welfare elements of the legislation. They’re in no mood to accept a Pelosi-blessed agreement. But the pragmatic wing of the party wants to restore bonus jobless benefits that have been cut off, and many GOP incumbents up for reelection are agitating for deal.

• UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: Probably the biggest issue impeding the talks is renewal of the pandemic bonus unemployment benefit, which was set at $600 until it expired at the end of July. The $600 benefit meant that most workers were receiving more on unemployment than through their former jobs, and many GOP senators are adamant that it not be fully renewed. But the benefit is popular with voters and Pelosi is solidly behind the full $600, which economists say has helped keep millions out of poverty.

• STATE AND LOCAL AID: Governors in both parties and local officials are the driving force behind a Pelosi-driven aid plan for state and local governments, which have been starved of tax revenues as the economy slumps. They are pleading for help and have panned Trump’s recent executive moves as confusing and inadequate.

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