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Steny Hoyer hints at wiggle room for coronavirus relief talks: 'It's not $600 or bust'

Steny Hoyer hints at wiggle room for coronavirus relief
talks: 'It's not $600 or bust' 1

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer criticized the GOP’s coronavirus relief proposal as “inadequate” Tuesday morning, but he hinted there could be room for compromise on how Congress handles the boosted unemployment benefits.

The Maryland Democrat said the Republicans’ plan to cut the $600 extra weekly unemployment insurance down to $200 before implementing 70% of a worker’s previous wage as the new cap was “draconian.”

“It is typical of the Republican response to the American people in saying ‘You’re on your own.’” Mr. Hoyer said on CNN.

“This bill is a McConnell fig leaf. It is a pretense of response rather than a substantive response,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite the frustration with the GOP’s initial offer, Mr. Hoyer acknowledged that their concerns of boosted unemployment offering an incentive to some individuals to stay out of work has “some validity to it,” but it was wrong to make the American people “go cold turkey.”

The Democrats’ deal would provide a clean extension of the $600 payments, but Mr. Hoyer said it isn’t a make-or-break figure for them.

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“It’s not $600 or bust,” he said. “We don’t have red lines, we have values, and we’re going into these negotiations with values.

“To say $600 or nothing, no, that’s not where we are. But we’re also not prepared to let down the American people,” he added.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer are continuing their talks with White House liaisons Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on Tuesday.

The unemployment benefits, along with several other COVID-19 specific aid, are set to expire at the end of the month — ramping up pressure for lawmakers to reach a deal.

Mrs. Pelosi said last week that she’s “all for” the $600 payments, but was interested in seeing the GOP’s offer on direct payments.

Both Democrats and Republicans want to see another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to the public, with similar income limitations as the first one. Where they differ is in the payments for dependents — Republicans proposed $500 per dependent, while Democrats upped it to an additional $1,200 for up to three dependents.

Republicans, already facing opposition from within their own ranks over the steep $1 trillion price tag that is likely to go up, will need to make a deal with Democrats for any deal to pass.

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