U.S. Congress fails to reach deal on relief package as extra unemployment benefits expire

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WASHINGTON, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Republican and Democratic lawmakers haven't reached an agreement on a new relief package as the extra 600-dollar unemployment benefits for roughly 30 million people expire on Friday.

The two parties seem far apart from a deal, with unemployment benefits extension being one of the sticking points, and both sides of the aisle have blamed each other for failing to make progress.

"Republicans tried several ways to extend unemployment benefits. Democrats blocked them all," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted on Friday.

"The country can't afford this cynicism. Americans need help now," said McConnell.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said it's the Republicans who have failed to act for over 10 weeks, calling on McConnell to "get his facts straight."

"The House-passed #HeroesAct extends the enhanced unemployment benefits families are depending on -- while his 'proposal' slashes benefits by $400 a week," Pelosi said, referring to the 3-trillion-dollar relief package drafted by House Democrats in May.

As part of the 2.2-trillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill passed in late March, Congress agreed to provide 600-dollar federal unemployment benefits per week on top of state unemployment benefits.

The Senate Republicans' 1-trillion-dollar proposal, unveiled Monday, would slash the federal benefits to 200 dollars through September, giving an unemployed worker about 70 percent of previous wages when combined with state benefits, while Democrats want to maintain the current level of benefits through January.

The White House and Republicans have contended that the 600-dollar benefits have created a financial disincentive for people to return to work, an argument refuted by some economists, including Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman.

As negotiations for the relief package stall, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter, the deepest decline since the government began keeping records in 1947.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported the number of initial jobless claims in the United States rose to 1.43 million last week amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, following an increase in the previous week.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, recently warned that the U.S. economy is at serious risk of sliding back into a double-dip recession unless Congress and the Trump administration come up with another fiscal rescue package before Congress goes on its August recess. Enditem

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