Roundup: Democratic leader, White House official resume relief talks over 2.2-tln-USD proposal

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday discussed an updated relief package newly proposed by House Democrats amid growing doubts about the two sides' willingness and ability to break the impasse.

Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke by phone at 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) for approximately 50 minutes, according to Drew Hammill, spokesman and deputy chief of staff for the House speaker.

"The two went over the provisions of the updated Heroes Act and agreed to speak again tomorrow," Hammill said in a tweet, referring to a 2.2-trillion-U.S.-dollar relief bill unveiled Monday night, which is a scaled-back package of a 3.4-trillion-dollar proposal the Democratic-held House passed in May.

However, some Senate Republicans have signaled that they're not willing to support any package that costs over 1.5 trillion dollars to salvage the economy reeling from the pandemic. Earlier this month, Senate Republicans failed to advance a slimmed-down proposal, which contained roughly 650 billion dollars in total spending.

The Democrats' 2.2-trillion package includes 436 billion dollars in emergency aid for state and local governments, an additional round of 1,200 dollars stimulus check for most Americans and more money to restore the weekly 600-dollar federal unemployment payments through January.

The new offer from House Democrats came after Pelosi said on Sunday that there's a chance she and Mnuchin could still reach an agreement on the next coronavirus relief package.

At a congressional hearing on Thursday, Mnuchin also said the administration is ready to reach a bipartisan agreement, noting that a targeted relief package is still needed.

Lawmakers remain far apart on the new relief bill roughly two months after the extra 600-U.S.-dollar per week federal unemployment benefits -- part of a 2-trillion-dollar relief package approved by Congress in late March -- expired at the end of July.

Economists, as well as Federal Reserve officials, have argued more fiscal relief is needed to sustain the economic recovery, warning of dire consequences if further fiscal support is not provided in time.

"While the economy has been doing better than expected, I think there's downside risk to that if there is no further fiscal support," U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recently at a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

The central bank chief noted both employment and overall economic activity remain well below their pre-pandemic levels, and the country still has 11 million unemployed, out of the 22 million who were laid off in March and April amid COVID-19 shutdowns.

Patrick Harker, president of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, said at a virtual event on Tuesday that U.S. employment probably won't recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, urging lawmakers to consider providing additional fiscal support soon to blunt the economic impact of COVID-19.

Amid mounting pressures to roll out an aid package, Democratic and Republican leaders have repeatedly blamed the other side for the lack of progress on the negotiations.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously lashed out at Democrats for blocking the Senate Republicans' narrower COVID-19 relief proposal, saying that Democrats' goal is to offer no help for U.S. families before the November presidential election.

Pelosi, however, said the Republicans' slimmed-down proposal doesn't come close to addressing the problems. "Either Republicans do not understand the gravity of the situation or do not care about the needs of America's working families," said the Democratic leader.

With just over a month until Election Day, it's not clear whether the two parties could bridge their differences and reach an agreement on the relief package before the presidential election. Enditem

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