President Donald Trump said he wants to extend the federal unemployment benefits program established in the CARES Act in March and said Democrats "have to do it," accusing them of seeing it as a "political thing." The enhanced unemployment benefit, which provided almost 30 million unemployed Americans with $600 weekly to supplement state unemployment benefits, expired on Friday without Congress passing any extension, even a short-term one. House Democrats did vote to extend the benefit through January in May's HEROES Act, which Senate Republicans have refused to take on.
After Trump arrived in Tampa on Friday afternoon, he briefly spoke with Spectrum News about the unemployment insurance. He did support the unemployment benefit and said Democrats should as well. "We've been very generous – overly – and I want to take care of the people. Not only in Florida but the whole country," Trump said. "And you know we had record job numbers last month, and the month after that, so we're headed in the right direction. And the Democrats view this as a political thing. They view it for November 3. And we don't do it that way. We're doing the right thing. So, we want to get the money out. It's a lot of money, and we want to get it done."
While Trump was in Florida, talks were underway in Washington Friday after failing to reach an agreement Thursday night. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows accused Democrats of refusing to negotiate and "have made zero offers over the last three days," reports WUSA. He accused Democrats of "willing to play politics." The White House offered a one-week extension of the $600 benefit, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected this because she believes the issue has to be fixed in a bigger stimulus package.
"Clearly, they did not understand the gravity of the situation," Pelosi told reporters Friday. She said the short-term extension would only work if the two sides were close to a deal, but this is not the case. "Why don't we just get the job done?" the California Democrat added.
On Saturday morning, Democratic leaders met with Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for three hours. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it "the best discussion we've had so far," but there was still "a ways to go," reports the Washington Post. Meadows agreed, telling reporters there were "Still substantial differences, but we did make good progress." Schumer said their aides would work on details Sunday before another meeting on Monday.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have proposed a different idea for the unemployment benefits. In the HEALS Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed cutting the weekly benefit to just $200 per week through the end of September. By then, states are expected to have a new system in place that would entitle unemployed Americans to 70% of the worker's former salary with a combination of federal funds and state unemployment benefits. If a state does not get the new system in place by September, the state can apply to have the $200 per week payments extended for two more months.