Flashpoints emerge as lawmakers negotiate new virus aid

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 20, 2020, in Washington. Congress is just starting to negotiate new legislation to renew coronavirus aid. But the biggest obstacles to a deal are already coming into view. The Democratic House passed a whopping $3.5 trillion coronavirus response bill more than two months ago and is demanding robust funding to help state and local governments. Republicans want to keep the bill closer to $1 trillion and are insisting on new legal protections for schools, businesses, and charities that are trying to reopen. Its up to top congressional leaders to bridge the gaps as they negotiate with President Donald Trump's White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – Bipartisan Capitol Hill talks have only just begun on a sweeping renewal of coronavirus legislation, but areas of likely agreement — and flashpoints of discord — are becoming apparent as the package starts to take shape.

The Democratic House passed a whopping $3.5 trillion coronavirus response bill more than two months ago, re-upping a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit that expires July 31, another round of $1,200 payments to most people, and almost $1 trillion for cash-starved states and local governments. The GOP's $1 trillion-plus response, expected shortly, will have far less money and will feature a sweeping liability shield for schools, businesses, and charities that are trying to reopen. It's up to top congressional leaders to bridge the gaps.

Here's a rundown of the top issues in play as the talks gain momentum.

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LIKELY IN THE FINAL BILL

—$1,200 direct payments. President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all agree that there should be another round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans at a cost approaching $300 billion. It's seen as a slam dunk for inclusion despite grumbling that the aid isn't well targeted to those most in need.

—Aid to schools/universities. Both the House and Senate bills contain $100 billion or more to help schools and universities through the crisis and reopen as soon as possible. The emerging GOP draft would dedicate half of a $70 billion school aid package to schools that resume in-school learning, Republicans say, with half going to those reopening with remote learning. Democrats are sure to oppose the idea.

—Small business subsidies. The Payroll Protection Program, or PPP, has received $660 million to help generally smaller businesses weather the pandemic, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is pressing for more targeted to especially hard-hit sectors like restaurants. Democrats and Republicans have worked well together on the issue, and there's more than $100 billion in unspent PPP funding that they could re-purpose.