By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi were “far apart” on another coronavirus economic relief package, and that a deal would be hard to reach before the Nov. 3 elections, but he would keep trying.
The White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress are under mounting pressure to hammer out a fiscal stimulus deal to help Americans here weather a pandemic that has killed nearly 216,000 people and damaged the economy.
But the two sides are divided over several priorities. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are resisting as too expensive a $1.8 trillion offer that Mnuchin proposed last week. Pelosi says it’s insufficient and is calling for a $2.2 trillion package.
Mnuchin, who spoke by phone with the California Democrat on Wednesday morning, acknowledged the two were still “far apart” on some issues and said politics were “part of the reality.”
“I’d say at this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult just given where we are and the level of detail, but we’re going to try to continue to work through these issues,” Mnuchin said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Washington.
Wall Street finished weaker, led lower by Amazon and Microsoft, on the lack of a stimulus agreement. Mnuchin told Fox Business Network after the markets had closed that “we’re going to keep trying.”
“The president has said to me, keep at this until you get this done,” Mnuchin said. He said a deal could be reached quickly if Pelosi compromises. “If we don’t get it now, when the president wins the election we’ll get it passed quickly afterwards.”
Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, described the talks on Wednesday as productive, but added that the Trump administration’s lack of a national strategic testing plan for the virus remained a “major area of disagreement.”
“In response to proposals sent over the weekend, the two spent time seeking clarification on language, which was productive,” Hammill said on Twitter.
Mnuchin and Pelosi will speak again on Thursday and staff would continue to “exchange paper,” Hammill said.
Mnuchin said he did not agree with Pelosi’s “all-or-nothing” approach to a deal. He said there’s some $300 billion unspent from previous coronavirus aid packages that could be “repurposed” by Congress immediately. This would include money that could be allocated for the airlines, he told Fox.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, announced that the Senate would vote next week on a slimmed down $500 billion COVID-19 bill. Democrats blocked a similar proposal last month.
Congress passed about $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, including help for the unemployed, in March.
Reporting by Tim Ahmann, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Paul Simao and Grant McCool.