Mnuchin: Trump wants more COVID-19 relief aid
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told House lawmakers on Tuesday that he’s ready to restart negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a massive coronavirus relief package, emphasizing that both he and President Trump 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.
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 Meadows 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.”
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 Waters (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 Biden 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.
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.