Mnuchin says new economic relief deal unlikely before election, though talks with Pelosi continue

Asked whether Democrats are unwilling to make a deal because they don’t want to give Trump a win three weeks before the election, Mnuchin replied: “I think that definitely is part of the reality. That’s definitely an issue.”

“But the president is very focused on when he wins we will need to do more. So that’s part of the reason to continue to work on this,” the Treasury secretary added. “The clock will not stop.”

Mnuchin made his comments following an hour-long conversation he had earlier Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The two have been negotiating the contours of a comprehensive deal for a couple of weeks, despite the long-shot prospects for success. Trump, on Wednesday, called for a deal in a Twitter post, urging negotiators to “Go big or go home!!!”

Mnuchin made Pelosi a $1.8 trillion offer on Friday that she rejected as inadequate in many respects, including the administration’s failure to agree to specifics on a national coronavirus testing strategy.

Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Pelosi and Mnuchin had a “productive” conversation and would speak again on Thursday.

“One major area of disagreement continues to be that the White House lacks an understanding of the need for a national strategic testing plan,” Hammill wrote. “The Speaker believes we must reopen our economy & schools safely & soon, & scientists agree we must have a strategic testing plan.”

Mnuchin and Pelosi have agreed on some areas, including a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks, but have remained far apart on funding for state and local aid, child care and unemployment insurance, and continue to argue over specific language in some areas. Democrats also oppose liability protections the administration wants in any deal.

Mnuchin criticized Pelosi’s focus on a comprehensive deal, saying they could and should act immediately to help specific sectors, such as airlines that have begun mass furloughs after federal aid expired at the end of September. Pelosi and Mnuchin briefly discussed a stand-alone airline aid bill last week, but Pelosi then rejected that idea amid a backlash from some unions and Democrats questioning why only airlines should get help.

“From our perspective we could have immediate help to many different parts of the economy now,” Mnuchin said.

“I don’t agree with the speaker’s approach of ‘we have to do all or nothing.’ We’re continuing to negotiate a comprehensive bill but we want to put money into the economy now,” Mnuchin said.

Over the weekend Mnuchin called on Congress to redirect about $130 billion in unused funding from the Paycheck Protection Program intended for small businesses while negotiations continue on a broader relief effort.

Pelosi has rejected such piecemeal efforts. She defended her approach in an interview on CNN on Tuesday night, telling host Wolf Blitzer he didn’t know what he was talking about when he pressed her on why she wouldn’t agree to Mnuchin’s $1.8 trillion offer.

Senate Republicans, however, oppose the Mnuchin offer as too high and convened a conference call with Mnuchin and chief of staff Mark Meadows over the weekend to make their opposition clear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intends to try to advance a narrow, approximately $500 billion bill next week on the Senate floor, where it’s likely to encounter Democratic opposition. He tried the same thing last month also without success.

Trump has made a series of erratic moves and demands that appear to have strengthened her negotiating position, including saying last week he wants to spend even more money than Democrats have approved — just days after calling off talks, only to backtrack on that almost immediately. The House last month passed a $2.2 trillion bill that Senate Republicans have not brought up for a vote.

The White House and Congress enacted several laws earlier this year in an effort to address the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, approving close to $3 trillion in new spending. Those laws provided a temporary boost in unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, a round of $1,200 stimulus checks, aid for the airline industry, and a range of other programs.

Some of these programs have expired in recent months, though, and there are numerous signs the economy is beginning to strain. The airline industry and other sectors have recent laid off thousands of additional workers, and many Americans remain behind on their utility bills, mortgage payments, and rent. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell has said there could be severe complications in the economic recovery if Congress doesn’t approve more assistance.

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