Mnuchin says COVID-19 relief before election ‘would be difficult’
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday cast doubt on the prospects of getting a fifth COVID-19 relief package deal approved before Election Day.
“I’d say at this point getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult,” he said at the Milken Institute Global Conference.
Stock markets fell on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipping 200 points, or about 7 percent.
Mnuchin has been negotiating a deal with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for months, and most recently upped the White House offer to $1.8 trillion, getting closer to the latest Democratic ask of $2.2 trillion.
Mnuchin said the two spoke for an hour earlier Wednesday morning, and that he spent an additional two hours speaking with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
A Pelosi spokesman said the talks were “productive,” but that key disagreements remained over language on a national COVID-19 testing plan.
“The Speaker believes we must reopen our economy & schools safely & soon, & scientists agree we must have a strategic testing plan,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted.
Mnuchin suggested that the policy questions in the bill remained a significant hurdle, and reiterated calls for smaller, stand-alone bills dealing with individual issues.
“There’s a lot of details, other than just the top-line number,” he said.
The admission that a deal is unlikely ahead of the election could dim President Trump’s hopes of getting an electoral boost from a new round of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance in the days before Election Day.
Trump, who dramatically called off stimulus talks last week citing Democratic insistence on a much larger package than the White House was willing to stomach, has since done a complete about-face, pushing Congress to “go big.”
His top economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested that the White House could go higher still, and even outbid Democrats, though the original Democratic bill was $3.4 trillion.
Senate Republicans, in the meantime, have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to a large bill, raising the prospects that they could buck Trump even if he were to strike a bargain with Pelosi.
The need for federal action has become increasingly urgent as key provisions of March’s CARES Act have expired, including expanded unemployment benefits for millions of Americans and emergency loans to small businesses.
A number of struggling airlines said they would need to lay off tens of thousands of workers without a new aid package at the start of October.
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