Pelosi: White House must agree to more COVID-19 aid for talks to resume

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the White House must agree to spend more money on coronavirus aid during a phone call slated for Thursday afternoon, if talks aimed at a deal on new legislation are to move forward.

Pelosi was to talk about coronavirus relief with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows by phone at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT), the first chance in weeks to revive stalled COVID-19 aid negotiations.

But Congress’s top Democrat told reporters it will be a short conversation unless Meadows says the Trump administration is willing to agree to a higher aid figure than the $1 trillion initially proposed by the White House and Senate Republicans.

“Are you willing to meet in the middle? If so, we can have a conversation. If not, I’ve returned your call,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

“We’re not budging. Understand this. They have to move,” she added. “They’re just going to have to come up with more money.”

Meadows and Pelosi are two of the four negotiators who were involved in talks on legislation to help Americans and businesses suffering from a coronavirus pandemic that has now killed nearly 180,000 people. The others are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

The talks broke down on Aug. 7, with the sides far apart on major issues including the size of unemployment benefits for tens of millions of people made jobless by the pandemic, aid for state and local governments and funding for schools and food support programs.

The Democratic-controlled House in May passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill but Pelosi offered to reduce that sum by $1 trillion. The White House rejected the offer.

The Pelosi-Meadows phone call comes hours before President Donald Trump was due to accept his party’s nomination Thursday evening. Some Democrats have said they did not expect the White House to resume negotiations in earnest until after this week’s Republican National Convention.

On Wednesday, Meadows said in an interview with Politico that he was not optimistic negotiations would resume soon.

U.S. airlines have warned that massive layoffs will be coming without further aid during the pandemic.

They are hoping a fresh stimulus bill will extend for six months $25 billion in payroll aid that expires on Sept. 30 under legislation approved earlier this year.

The head of the union representing American Airlines’ pilots, who are facing 1,600 furloughs, sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday urging action to extend the package and prevent tens of thousands of layoffs on Oct 1.

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