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U.S. President Donald Trump rekindled hope this week for a second coronavirus relief package for millions of financially ailing Americans who lost jobs because of the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, when he urged Republican lawmakers to support economic relief legislation.
Trump suddenly expressed support Wednesday for a $1.5 trillion bill proposed by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, that would provide a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals.
A new round of stimulus checks was excluded from a roughly $500 billion plan Senate Republicans failed to pass earlier this month, capping months of unsuccessful negotiations to bring a second round of economic aid to millions of Americans.
The $3 trillion CARES Act was passed in March by bipartisan agreement, providing unemployed workers with an extra $600 a week in benefits, but that expired at the end of July.
Trump's expression of support for the $1.5 trillion bill could reenergize stalled negotiations and apply more pressure to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders before Congress goes on recess. Lawmakers are expected to leave Washington to campaign in their home districts after passing a continuing resolution funding the government past a September 30 budget deadline.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was already facing mounting criticism from House Democrats, including those locked in tight reelection bids.
Trump did not commit to supporting the entire Problem Solvers proposal, which has already been rejected by leaders of both parties. Republicans maintained the $1.5 trillion measure was too costly, while Democrats argued it did not provide enough relief.
Trump's renewed interest in a relief bill was followed Wednesday by a phone conversation between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, their first such discussion of the issue in more than two weeks.
As more Democrats call for action on a bill before recess, Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer implied that Trump's renewed interest confirmed that their support for more relief was the right position.
"We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to 'go for the much higher numbers' in the next coronavirus relief package," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. The two leaders also said they hoped Trump's negotiators would "finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation."
But Trump framed the matter differently, claiming on Twitter Wednesday that "heartless" Democrats did not want to "give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China."
The Democrats in fact pushed a $3 trillion bill through the House in May that included more stimulus payments. But they rejected Republican counteroffers that provided a much smaller sum and did not include several provisions in the Democratic plan, including assistance to the states.
A separate $1 trillion bill put forward by Republican leaders that also included an additional round of stimulus checks failed to gain traction in the Senate in July because of GOP infighting over its size, scope and details.
While the U.S. economy is showing some signs of recovery, including increased retail spending and hospitality industry hiring, other segments have been slower to recover. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates remain high, with 29.77 million Americans receiving benefits through state and federal programs for the week ending August 29, the latest data available.
The United States continues to lead the world in confirmed COVID-19 deaths, with more than 198,100 as of Friday afternoon EDT, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. is also home to a world-leading 6.7 million coronavirus infections.