October 25, 2020

Mnuchin open to restarting negotiations

The Trump administration is open to resuming coronavirus aid talks with Democratic leaders and would offer more aid money to try to reach a compromise, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday. 

“The president is determined to spend what we need to spend. … We’re prepared to put more money on the table,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” 

Mnuchin declined to say when he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows would restart discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after negotiations ground to a halt on Friday. He said the Democratic leaders seemed “willing to compromise” as the sides stand trillions of dollars apart in what they want to spend to combat the pandemic’s damage to Americans’ health and wallets. 

“Again, if we can get a fair deal we’re willing to do it this week,” Mnuchin said. 

The Treasury secretary spoke after President Donald Trump tried to offer coronavirus aid through executive order over the weekend. Officials in Washington do not see the president’s actions as a permanent fix, as they are limited in scope and constitutionally questionable. 

Only legislation from Congress, which controls federal spending, would unquestionably enshrine lifelines designed to boost the U.S. health-care system and economy. 

Trump’s orders would extend extra federal unemployment insurance, which expired at the end of July, at a reduced level of $400 per week. The federal government would cover 75% of the payment with disaster relief funds, while states would cover the rest. Mnuchin contended states would have enough money to cover their share of the cost, even though many face budget crunches due to the pandemic. 

Democrats have pushed to extend the jobless benefit at the previous $600 per week.

The president’s actions also call on administration officials to consider stopping evictions from federally backed housing and help renters with aid payments. He did not continue a moratorium on evictions that lapsed late last month. 

The measure would extend a suspension of interest on federal student loans and allow borrowers to delay payments until the end of the year. Student loan holders currently do not have to make payments through Sept. 30. 

Trump’s order also calls for the Treasury to stop collecting the employee portion of the payroll tax until the end of the year for people making less than roughly $104,000 per year. 

On Monday, Schumer told MSNBC that Trump’s action are “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.” 

Schumer and Pelosi also criticized the measures in a joint statement Saturday. They said the policies would provide “little real help to families” and would not address Covid-19 testing, efforts to reopen schools and food assistance. 

“Democrats repeat our call to Republicans to return to the table, meet us halfway and work together to deliver immediate relief to the American people.  Lives are being lost, and time is of the essence,” they said. 

As of last week, Democrats were pushing to spend at least $3 trillion on a rescue package. Republicans have called for a bill that costs about $1 trillion. 

Pelosi and Schumer said the White House rejected an offer to meet in the middle with roughly $2 trillion legislation.

Mnuchin said the administration and Democrats agreed on two major areas: more funding for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for struggling small businesses and another direct payment of up to $1,200 for individuals. He added that the White House wanted to work toward a compromise on funding for food and Covid-19 vaccine development. 

The sides appear most divided on relief for cash-strapped states and municipalities. Democrats have pushed for nearly $1 trillion in aid to avoid cuts to essential services, a figure Republicans have repeatedly rejected as unnecessary.

“We’re not going to give a trillion dollars for state and local, that’s just not a reasonable approach,” Mnuchin said. He added that he had spoken to state and officials and many have not spent the funds the federal government sent them earlier this year. 

Last week, Pelosi said Republicans had offered $150 billion in aid to states and municipalities. It is unclear where the sides could find a compromise on state and local relief. 

Lawmakers have a tricky path to approving a bill in both the GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic-held House, even if negotiators can strike a deal. 

Many GOP lawmakers oppose spending even $1 trillion more on pandemic relief. Schumer has said Democrats would not accept less than $2 trillion in aid. 

Even after Trump took the executive actions, Mnuchin stressed on Monday the importance of Congress passing legislation quickly.

“Let’s not hold up everything over a few things that we disagree on,” he said. 

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