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Coronavirus aid talks on pause, top White House official says

But House Democrats are moving forward with their own COVID-19 relief bill anyway

White House Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow talks to reporters outside the White House on Friday.
White House Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow talks to reporters outside the White House on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump administration and top Capitol Hill Democrats aren’t yet negotiating to put together another bipartisan COVID-19 relief package, according to a key White House economic adviser who suggested an eventual deal may not emerge for a month.

“We’ve kind of paused as far as formal negotiations go. Let’s have a look at what the latest round produces. You need a month or so to evaluate that,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said outside the White House on Friday.

While House Democrats are not against further discussions with Republicans on Capitol Hill or in the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear her caucus won’t wait to act on further legislation.

She and House Democratic committee leaders have been putting together another package that’s likely to exceed $1 trillion, though it wasn’t yet clear if the measure would be ready for a vote next week.

Pelosi in previous rounds of coronavirus-related aid as well as other budget deals in recent years has worked together with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other White House officials, as well as GOP leaders.

“We had, in all of the negotiations that we have had, a list of things that we wanted to see,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “So, a part of this is the things that they never agreed to before and kept saying, ‘In the next bill,’ ‘In the next bill,’ ‘In the next bill.’ So, these are a part of those negotiations. In the next bill, we are doing these things.”

Pelosi also said she knew that with a Republican majority in the Senate and President Donald Trump in the White House, there will need to be further negotiations.

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“But we have to start someplace, and, rather than starting in a way that does not meet the needs of the American people, we want to set a standard,” Pelosi said. “And, again, we need a presidential signature, so at some point we’ll have to come to agreement.”

Proposals Democrats have pushed in earlier rounds of legislative aid that were rejected by the White House and top Republicans include aid to state and local governments, regulations to protect health care workers from virus exposure, nutrition assistance for low-income families and more.

[Negotiators face more contentious issues than state, local aid]

Kudlow said, however, the Trump administration was continuing to speak regularly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

“The president, as you know, has put out a number of his own policy ideas — payroll tax cuts being one of them, and some kind of liability restrictions, COVID-19 liability restrictions for businesses,” Kudlow said.

The prospect of a payroll tax reduction or holiday has gotten a lukewarm reception even from key Republican senators, but limited coronavirus liability protection for health care entities and businesses is a top priority for the GOP, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“There will be an epidemic — it’s beginning already — of litigation, surrounding the pandemic of the coronavirus,” McConnell said Thursday on Fox News. “If there is another rescue package, it must include and will include liability protections related narrowly to the coronavirus pandemic that has affected every single state in America.”

Kudlow on Friday also highlighted proposals to promote restaurant and travel spending, as well as allowing businesses to quickly write off their expenses as they reopen.

“They will incur a lot of expenses to deal with the virus and, you know, prevent a recurrence,” Kudlow said. “And that’ll cost money, and I think every nickel of that should be expensed 100 percent, immediately.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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