Pelosi Pessimistic About Coronavirus Aid Deal

Pelosi Pessimistic About Coronavirus Aid Deal

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Plus, Trump's Covid misinformation
Thursday, October 1, 2020

Hopes Fade for Coronavirus Stimulus Package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke again Thursday as part of a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement on a coronavirus relief bill before Congress leaves town ahead of the election, but no breakthroughs on a potential deal were announced.

The atmosphere around the talks was notably strained. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said early Thursday that Mnuchin had offered a $1.6 trillion proposal and criticized Pelosi for failing to take the offer seriously.

"It’s a good offer but it’s one Nancy Pelosi is not interested in," McEnany said in a press briefing. "Nancy Pelosi is not being serious. If she becomes serious then we can have a discussion."

Pelosi said the offer was too small and was focused more on helping the rich than ordinary citizens. "This isn’t half a loaf, this is the heel of the loaf," Pelosi told Bloomberg.

Pelosi cast doubt on the chances of a deal during a private call with House Democrats, listing several areas where the two sides remain far apart, Politico reports.

Still, Pelosi told reporters that she wanted to keep working toward a deal. "We're hopeful that we can reach agreement because the needs of the American people are so great. But there has to be a recognition that it takes money to do that," Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference.

The White House proposal:
The $1.62 trillion proposal offered by Mnuchin includes $250 billion in assistance for state and local governments, a boost of $100 billion over the previous Republican offer but still well short of the $436 billion Democrats are seeking. It also includes a proposal for $400 per week in extra unemployment benefits, running from September 12 to the end of the year, a third less than the $600 per week in the House bill.

Other provisions in the White House proposal include $300 billion for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans adults; $160 billion for businesses, including restaurants and airlines; $150 billion for education; $75 billion for Covid-19 testing; $60 billion for rental assistance; $50 billion for vaccines; $50 billion for health care providers; and $25 billion for child care.

Republican lawmakers express doubts:
Even as Pelosi criticized the White House proposal for being too small, some Republican lawmakers said they would have trouble supporting it because it would be too large.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, who played a key role in passing the GOP tax cuts in 2017, said he was concerned about spending too much money on things like aid for the unemployed and state and local governments. "How much wasteful spending will we have to swallow to do this?" he asked during an interview with Fox Business Network.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rick Scott (R-FL) said they would probably not support the White House plan, with Johnson saying he was unlikely to back anything larger than $650 billion bill that failed in the Senate earlier this month.

Talks to continue.
Pelosi and Mnuchin were expected to speak again on Thursday. Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill Democrats unveiled earlier this week. Pelosi said that voting on the bill will not preclude making a deal with Republicans, although the vote was delayed on Wednesday in order to give negotiators more time to make a deal.

Layoffs Mount and Jobless Claims Keep Coming

About 837,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday, and another 650,000 people applied for aid through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed and gig workers. Combined, the weekly claims numbers come to more than 1.4 million.

The total number of people receiving state and federal unemployment benefits rose slightly to 26.5 million.

The state claims number was lower than the week before and better than expected, although economists warned that the data from California likely skewed the results as the state adjusted its processing and reporting system, while claims rose in the federal system. More broadly, economists said that although the months-long downward trend appears to be holding, new jobless claims remain at unprecedentedly high levels six months into the coronavirus recession.

"There is clearly a stalling out in the improvement in the domestic labor force," said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at the consulting firm RSM. "In particular, the rise in the number of persons on unemployment insurance and the increase in the number of people on PUA need to be monitored, because that signals we’re likely to have a sustained issue over the next couple of years inside the labor market, particularly pertaining to transportation, leisure, hospitality in general, aviation and hotels in particular."

Layoffs piling up:
The weekly jobless claims report comes as major employers announced new layoffs in a still-struggling economy. This week, Disney said it would fire 28,000 workers, Allstate Insurance said it would lay off 3,800, Ralph Lauren said it would lay off 3,700 and Dow Inc. said it would reduce its global staff by 6%. Major airlines said they would begin furloughing staff, including 19,000 at American Airlines and up to 16,000 at United Airlines, although those moves could be reversed if the companies received a new round of federal aid in the bill currently under negotiation.

Incomes slipping:
Personal income in the U.S. fell in August by 2.7%, the Commerce Department said Thursday, with the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits playing a major role. "The decline in income highlights the impact of the expiration of the extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits at the end of July, which had temporarily propped up household finances and helped spur consumption," Bloomberg’s Olivia Rockeman reported. "While President Donald Trump in early August announced an additional $300 a week in federal jobless benefits, many states didn’t get those funds out until early September, and the benefit only lasts six weeks, meaning that further declines in income could continue later this year."

Trump Is the Largest Driver of Coronavirus Misinformation: Study

President Trump was the single largest driver of misinformation about Covid-19 over the first months of the pandemic, according to a new study by Cornell University researchers.

The researchers analyzed more than 38 million articles about the pandemic published in English-language media around the world from the beginning of the year to May 26. They found that more than 1.1 million articles, or just under 3%, contained misinformation — and mentions of Trump accounted for nearly 38% of "the overall misinformation conversation" more than any other topic.

"We conclude that the President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic,’" the researchers write, applying the term that the World Health Organization has used for the widespread falsehoods circulating about the coronavirus pandemic.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Why it matters:
Misinformation about the pandemic is "one of the major reasons" the United States is not doing as well as other countries in fighting the pandemic, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a former principal deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration, told The New York Times.

Most Favor Biden on Preexisting Conditions, but Republican Voters Trust Trump

Which presidential candidate will do better at preserving protections for people with preexisting medical conditions? That might seem like a silly question to some readers, since President Trump’s administration is backing a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, including those protections. But the president has pledged to maintain those protections — he issued a toothless executive order to that effect last week — and, as Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz detail at The New York Times, Republican voters believe him.

While most voters say that Joe Biden will do better at maintaining protections for people with preexisting conditions — including 93% of Democrats and 57% of independents in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey — Republicans overwhelmingly trust Trump more on the issue (84% in the KFF poll). A Commonwealth Fund poll similarly found that 81% of Republican likely voters said Trump was more likely to protect coverage for those with preexisting conditions.

"They believe the repeated promises he makes, at campaign rallies, in Twitter messages and with executive orders — despite his support of lawsuits and legislation that would do the opposite," Kliff and Sanger-Katz write.

The Times reporters spoke to a dozen voters who said Trump would do a better job on pre-existing conditions and found that the voters not only believed the president but also couldn’t believe that any politician would undo the protections.

"There is not a single guy or woman who would run for president that would make it so that pre-existing conditions wouldn’t be covered," Phil Bowman, a 59-year-old retiree in North Carolina, told the Times. "Nobody would vote for him."

The bottom line:
Trump and Republican lawmakers have struggled to come up with a plan that would match the protections created under the Affordable Care Act, but Trump’s repeated promises are clearly enough to convince GOP partisans, even if other voters remain skeptical.

Read more at The New York Times.

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