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Mnuchin: Trump wants more COVID-19 relief aid

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE told House lawmakers on Tuesday that he’s ready to restart negotiations with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Andrew Yang condemns attacks against Asian Americans Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? MORE (D-Calif.) on a massive coronavirus relief package, emphasizing that both he and President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE support more emergency aid for workers, schools, small businesses and testing.

“Let me say I very much agree with you and those other experts that more fiscal response is needed. The president and I want to move forward with more fiscal response,” Mnuchin testified before a special House subcommittee investigating the federal response to the pandemic.

“I'm prepared to sit down with the Speaker at any time to negotiate,” he added.

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Talks between Pelosi and White House officials have been on hold ever since the two sides walked away from the negotiating table on Aug. 7, more than three weeks ago. Democrats and Trump are still about a trillion dollars apart, even as they’ve inched closer to a deal in recent days.

Pelosi’s offer last week to White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump attacks Karl Rove: 'A pompous fool with bad advice' How scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses MORE was $2.2 trillion, down from $2.4 trillion. Meanwhile, Meadows said Trump would support a $1.3 trillion package, up from $1.1 trillion.

"I do not support $2.2 trillion," Mnuchin told the panel.

Senate Republicans next week are planning to bring to the floor a pared-down, “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill in the neighborhood of $500 billion, but Democrats have called it inadequate and are expected to block it.

Though the presidential election is fast approaching, Tuesday’s hearing, led by Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.), wasn’t as combative as other past House hearings. And Mnuchin was quick to lay out where he saw areas of agreement on a bipartisan deal.

“I believe a bipartisan agreement still should be reached,” Mnuchin told the panel, “and would provide substantial funds for schools, testing, vaccines, [Paycheck Protection Program] PPP for small businesses, continued enhanced unemployment benefits, child care, nutrition, agriculture, and the U.S. Postal Service, along with liability protection for universities, schools, and businesses.”

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Millions of unemployed Americans are no longer receiving the extra $600 per week that Congress approved at the beginning of the pandemic. Those benefits expired in July, and Democrats said Tuesday that American families struggling to pay rent and mortgages will be evicted and put out on the street unless a deal is reached.

Mnuchin pointed to Trump’s executive actions to temporarily supplement unemployment insurance by $400 a week, but that money has not reached all families who need it. And Mnuchin made clear to lawmakers “the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance is something that we are concerned about.”

On top of that, Mnuchin previewed to lawmakers that Trump planned to roll out another executive order later Tuesday that would place a moratorium on residential evictions for those impacted by the crisis.

A big sticking point in the negotiations, both sides agree, is emergency aid for cash-strapped state and local governments which have seen their tax-revenue streams dry up due to economic closures during the pandemic. Pelosi and the Democrats want a substantial number to go to states, counties and cities, which are struggling to prevent mass layoffs of police officers, firefighters and other public workers.

At one point, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersProgressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks Lawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (D-Calif.) suggested to Mnuchin, tongue in cheek, that Trump’s White House was trying to “defund the police” — a phrase Trump backers have used to attack Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Ex-Trump appointee arrested in Capitol riot complains he won't be able to sleep in jail Biden helps broker Senate deal on unemployment benefits MORE and the Democrats.

“Now let me be clear, we are not defunding the police or fire,” Mnuchin replied.

The Treasury secretary added that the White House would agree to provide some extra funding for state and local governments, which already received a big injection of aid in the bipartisan CARES Act this year.

“Nobody thinks the right outcome is zero," Mnuchin said.

During more back-and-forth, Waters repeatedly pressed Mnuchin to get back to the negotiating table with the Speaker immediately.

“Can I tell her that you suggested I call her right after the hearing?” Mnuchin asked Waters.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Waters replied.

“Done! I will call her right after the hearing,” Mnuchin said.

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It was unclear if the two chief negotiators connected later Tuesday, but Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill pointed out that Democrats have “repeatedly compromised” in this round of negotiations.

“We have offered to come down $1.2 trillion. We welcome the White House back to the negotiating table but they must meet us in the middle,” Hammill said.

--Updated at 3:59 p.m.