Democrats press Mnuchin to defend $2T coronavirus stimulus IG

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and several of his colleagues are pressing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to defend the authority of the new inspector general who will be in charge of overseeing a $500 billion corporate liquidity fund.

The new special inspector general for pandemic recovery director, a position created by the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, is tasked with conducting audits and investigations of loans, loan guarantees and grants and providing periodic reports to Congress.

The senators in a letter to Mnuchin on Tuesday asserted that the inspector general's "unfettered operation is not only a legal necessity, but also a condition you personally agreed to," and that it was "imperative that you defend it."

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the senior Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, joined Schumer on the letter.

The inspector general, who will have oversight of the corporate liquidity fund and other parts of the $2 trillion-plus law, has yet to be named and must be confirmed by a vote of the Senate. He or she is to be appointed by the president.

The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), as the position is formally known, is one of three layers of oversight created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The law also creates the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), a review panel made up of inspectors general of other executive departments, and a Congressional Oversight Commission, made up of five members chosen by the top four Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House.

Department of Defense acting inspector general Glenn Fine was named Monday to head the PRAC.

Fine's appointment was applauded by Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Monday but several Democrats have voiced concern the Trump administration may try to interfere in independent oversight of corporate loans and loan guarantees.

Schumer, Wyden and Brown urged that Trump formally send the inspector general's nomination to the Senate as soon as possible. They also asked Mnuchin to provide a plan, including a timeline, for setting up and staffing the inspector general's office.

President Trump in a signing statement Friday asserted that the inspector general will report to Congress with the president's input.

Referring to the law's creation of the inspector general, Trump said: "I do not understand, and my administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause," a section in the Constitution's Article II.

Schumer and his colleagues warned in their letter to Mnuchin that Trump's statement and statements by past presidents to "undermine the ability of inspectors general to provide Congress statutorily required information is troubling and unacceptable."

"Faithful application of the law is not optional. It is a requirement," they wrote.

The lawmakers noted the CARES Act, which Schumer and Mnuchin negotiated in back-to-back late-night sessions, gives the Treasury secretary broad discretion to provide economic assistance to corporations.

"Waste and misuse of taxpayer money is never acceptable, but at a time such as this, it is imperative that waste, fraud, and abuse be rooted out expediently and thoroughly," they wrote.

Pelosi raised concerns over Trump's signing statement in her own public statement Monday.

"The legislation requires that taxpayer dollars given to industry go to workers' paychecks and benefits, not be used for CEO bonuses, stock buybacks or dividends," she said. "Unfortunately, the President has made clear that he intends to disregard critical oversight provisions that hold the Administration accountable to the law."

Schumer and his colleagues on Tuesday noted that the inspector general for pandemic recovery funds has been granted authorities similar to inspectors general who oversaw the 2008 Trouble Asset Relief Program, the reconstruction of Iraq and the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"Each of these positions has operated expressly within the clear dictates of their statutory mandate. We expect the SIGPR to be granted the same opportunity to have unfettered ability to execute its duties as laid out in the CARES Act. The Administration, including the Department of the Treasury, must be accountable to taxpayers," they wrote.  

Updated: 10:15 p.m.