Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says if Democratic leaders negotiating the next COVID-19 relief bill refuse to compromise, the talks could end with no deal at all.
Mnuchin was asked by Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Aug. 12 whether he thought congressional Democrats and the Trump administration were likely to find common ground and agree on a relief package, as talks remain stalled.
“I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise,” Mnuchin said. “If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal.”
Hopes that talks on a huge COVID-19 relief deal would generate an agreement soon are fizzling, with Republicans balking at the sweeping package Democrats have called for, while Democrats appear to believe they have the leverage to force Republicans and the White House teams to blink in a standoff over help for millions of Americans affected by the pandemic.
Mnuchin called for passing a deal quickly based on areas of agreement to minimize disruption to the economy, while setting aside outstanding issues for follow-up negotiations and a subsequent bill.
“Our view is let’s spend a little over a trillion dollars on areas of the economy that are going to be very impactful now that we can agree on, and if we need to do more, we can come back and do more and work together,” he said.
Mnuchin said that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Aug. 7 were “unwilling to compromise,” prompting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin to call on President Donald Trump to proceed with executive action.
Trump on Aug. 8 made a series of executive orders, including extending the enhanced $600 weekly jobless benefit at a reduced rate of $400 per week, deferring payroll taxes and federal student loan payments, and prolonging an eviction moratorium.
Trump said at the time: “My administration continues to work in good faith to reach an agreement with Democrats in Congress that will extend unemployment benefits, provide protections against evictions. A terrible thing happens with evictions. Not fair. It wasn’t their fault that we were infected with this disease from China.”
Schumer dismissed Trump’s executive actions as “all sizzle and no steak,” held together by “spit and glue.”
Until the executive orders work their way through to implementation, the impasse keeps millions of jobless people without the $600-per-week pandemic bonus jobless benefit that has helped families stay afloat, leaves state and local governments seeking fiscal relief high and dry, and holds back a more than $100 billion school aid package.
Mnuchin, in calling for bipartisan action to finalize the fifth relief package and negotiate unresolved issues in the run-up to a sixth, identified areas where the sides see eye to eye.
“We agreed on money for schools, money for child care, money for small businesses, for second payments on PPP for small businesses that have been particularly hard-hit, more money for vaccines, hospitals, we even agreed to state and local aid, just not the ridiculous trillion dollars that they wanted,” Mnuchin said.
Pelosi and Schumer have put their latest compromise offer on the table, lowering their $3 trillion-plus package of relief to $2.5 trillion, while asking the White House to increase its $1 trillion proposal to at least $2 trillion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.