Mnuchin sees possible virus deal, but no talks set with Congress

FILE PHOTO: House Small Business Committee in Washington, DC
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a House Small Business Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 17, 2020. The committee hearing is looking into the Small Business Administration and Treasury pandemic programs. (Erin Scott/Pool via REUTERS)


U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday said the Trump administration and Congress could reach a coronavirus aid deal as soon as this week, but Democrats said the two sides have not spoken since talks collapsed last Friday.

With negotiations at a standstill and President Donald Trump taking action at the weekend to try to sidestep Congress, it was unclear whether Democrats and Republicans would be able to bridge their differences to provide relief to workers, businesses and local governments that have been devastated by the pandemic, which has killed at least 162,000 Americans.

Eviction protections and enhanced unemployment assistance both expired at the end of July, slashing aid for more than 30 million people.

Trump on Saturday signed executive orders and memorandums on expired unemployment benefits, suspend evictions, student loan payments and payroll taxes. But it was not immediately clear whether they would provide relief.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said they were open to restarting talks. But there has been no contact since Friday between the administration and Capitol Hill negotiators, Democratic aides said.

“They have to meet us in the middle. They can’t just come to the table and say it’s our way or no way; we’ll never get a deal,” Schumer told MSNBC. “We need bold action. We’re not going to settle for some skimpy thing that doesn’t work.”

Trump said on Sunday that Democrats had called him, but Schumer said that was not true.

The Democratic-led House passed a $3.4 trillion aid bill in May, but the Republican-led Senate did not respond with a proposal of its own before unveiling a $1 trillion package late last month, around when senior Trump administration officials began negotiating with the Democrats.

There are areas of agreement between the two sides, including providing money for schools and coronavirus testing. But they remain at odds over the bill’s scope and issues like unemployment benefits for Americans forced from work, aid for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses.

Mnuchin said on CNBC there was room for compromise but declined to say when talks could resume.

“I think they’re willing to compromise,” he said. “There is still a lot of things we need to do and that we’ve agreed on.”

Trump, who has not participated in negotiations, put pressure on Pelosi and Schumer to reach out.

“They know my phone number,” he wrote on Twitter.