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Democratic senator, Mnuchin have testy exchange over people being pushed back to work

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMedicare loophole for screening colonoscopies is fixed — What does this mean for patients? Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (D-Ohio) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden 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 Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report MORE had a tense exchange during a Tuesday hearing when the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee asked whether people were being pushed to go back to work amid a pandemic to boost stock markets.

Brown argued that people were being pushed “back into the workplace” with “no national program to provide worker safety.”

“How many workers should give their lives to increase the [gross domestic product] or the Dow Jones by 1,000 points?” Brown asked Mnuchin during a virtual hearing with the secretary and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

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“No workers should give their lives to do that, Mr. Senator, and I think your characterization is unfair,” Mnuchin replied, adding that the Trump administration has “provided enormous amounts of equipment” to protect workers.

Brown’s question came after Mnuchin stressed the importance of “bringing people back to work in a safe way” as the pandemic pushed the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent in April and wiped out at least 21.4 million jobs since March, according to Labor Department data.

“It is important to realize that the large number represents real people,” Mnuchin said in his opening statement. 

The dispute between Brown and Mnuchin reflects the deep divides among Democrats and Republicans over how to support the devastated economy without fueling a new surge of COVID-19 cases that could plunge the U.S. into a deeper downturn.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE has steadily increased pressure on states, especially those critical to his reelection bid, to begin loosening restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 with hopes of a quick economic rebound.

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The president has repeatedly expressed support for demonstrations against governors who have extended coronavirus restrictions and argued that those decisions are meant to depress the economy ahead of Election Day.

Republican lawmakers have also stressed the need to begin reopening businesses and giving firms legal protection from lawsuits from workers or customers who could contract COVID-19 when restrictions are lifted.

Democrats have warned against lifting restrictions as coronavirus cases continue to rise in several states that have already begun to reopen, warning of the potential toll on front-line workers.

Democratic lawmakers and many economists have instead called for a substantial increase in fiscal support that keeps households and businesses afloat as the U.S. seeks to vanquish the virus.