Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday urged Congress to resume coronavirus relief talks and cut a deal on another aid package amid a high-stakes impasse between top Democrats and White House officials that's dragged on for weeks.
"While we continue to see signs of a strong economic recovery, we are sensitive to the fact that there is more work to be done, and certain areas of the economy require additional relief," Mnuchin said while testifying before the House subcommittee investigating the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mnuchin, one of the top negotiators for the White House, said they will continue to try to work with the Senate and House on a fourth round of emergency aid, despite an ongoing stalemate between the two sides.
"I believe a bipartisan agreement still should be reached and would provide substantial funds for schools, testing, vaccines, PPP for small businesses, continued enhanced unemployment benefits, child care, nutrition, agriculture, and the U.S. Postal Service, along with liability protection for universities, schools, and businesses," Mnuchin said.
One of the biggest points of contention between the parties is the cost of the proposal; talks broke down at the beginning of August, putting potentially trillions of dollars in aid at risk.
Democrats have offered to come down $1 trillion from the roughly $3 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. But the White House and Republican leaders want to keep the price tag closer to $1 trillion amid growing concerns over the nation's ballooning deficit.
An effort to restart relief talks stalled last week, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying it's fruitless to revive the negotiations until the GOP agrees to a $2.2 trillion price tag.
"We have said again and again that we are willing to come down, meet them in the middle — that would be $2.2 trillion," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. "When they're ready to do that, we'll be ready to discuss and negotiate. I did not get that impression on that call."
Mnuchin has previously called the $2 trillion figure a "non-starter," and has urged Democrats to return to the bargaining table and compromise on a $1 trillion package.
Facing a deadlocked Congress, President Trump issued a series of four executive actions that he said would address the economic pain inflicted by the virus-induced crisis.
"When it became clear that previous negotiations were not moving forward, the president took executive action to provide critical relief to Americans through lost wages assistance and other important items," Mnuchin said during his testimony.
Most notably, the measures would postpone the collection of payroll taxes for individuals earning less than $104,000 annually through the remainder of the year and partially restore supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 per week.
Trump has vowed to forgive any taxes that are deferred, but without legislation, those payments will still be required by the delayed due date.