Top Trump administration officials are calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to redirect unused funding from a small-business lifeline, the latest salvo in a week of twists and turns in talks between the White House and congressional leaders on a new round of coronavirus stimulus.
“Now is the time for us to come together and immediately vote on a bill to allow us to spend the unused Paycheck Protection Program funds while we continue to work toward a comprehensive package,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote in a letter on Sunday to members of the House and Senate. “The all-or-nothing approach is an unacceptable response to the American people.”
The letter follows a bevy of mixed signals from the administration over the past week — which included President Donald Trump abruptly breaking off stimulus talks, then reversing course and insisting on a variety of relief measures.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday rejected the latest $1.8 trillion stimulus offer from Mnuchin. Many Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have been wary of greenlighting yet another hefty relief package.
Meadows and Mnuchin reserved their criticism for the Democratic-led House for passing two massive relief bills largely along party lines “instead of compromising with us on bipartisan legislation like we have done in the past.”
“We will continue to try to work with Speaker Pelosi and Senator [Chuck] Schumer,” the pair wrote. “It is not just about the top-line number but also about legislation that can be passed by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Trump to help the American people.”
The two sides have differed on a wide range of issues, including the overall price tag of the next package. The latest Democratic relief bill clocked in at $2.2 trillion, about $400 billion more than the latest White House offer.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Sunday said Mnuchin could make a larger stimulus offer to Democrats after Trump said on Friday that he wanted a larger relief package than either party has offered.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Jake Tapper pressed Kudlow on whether the Treasury secretary — who is spearheading the stimulus talks with Pelosi — would offer more than the $2.2 trillion package the House passed earlier this month.
“He may. He may,” Kudlow said of Mnuchin. “Secretary Mnuchin is up to $1.8 trillion. So, the bid and the offer is narrowing somewhat between the two sides.”
“President Trump actually has always said ... as far as the key elements are concerned, the checks, the unemployment assistance, the small-business assistance — we have got to help airlines out — he would go further,” Kudlow added. “So, I think Secretary Mnuchin, who is a very good negotiator, will be carrying the president’s message.”
The president abruptly cut off relief talks with Pelosi last week, saying his administration wouldn’t negotiate until after the election. But soon after, Trump called on lawmakers to approve individual relief measures, including another round of stimulus checks and aid to airlines.
In an interview on Friday, Trump said he “would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering.”
His comments came amid the new, $1.8 trillion offer by Mnuchin to Democrats. In a letter to House Democrats on Sunday, Pelosi rejected the latest offer, arguing that it “does not meet the health needs” of the pandemic. Pelosi added that until a bevy of differences on what is in the packages can be bridged, “we remain at an impasse.”
Kudlow, meanwhile, downplayed Senate Republican opposition to a new multitrillion-dollar stimulus, and indicated that the GOP would go along if a deal were struck between the White House and Democrats.
“Don’t forget, the Republicans in the Senate put up their own bill a few weeks ago and got 53 votes, I think it was. So, they united,” Kudlow said. “I think, if an agreement can be reached, they will go along with it.”
During the interview, Kudlow and Tapper sparred over the political dynamics of passing another large coronavirus aid package. Kudlow blamed Democrats for holding up a deal, but Tapper pressed the White House economic adviser on entrenched resistance from Senate Republicans.
“I don’t understand the intransigence from my Democratic friends,” Kudlow said.
“Well, I’m not talking about your Democratic friends,” Tapper replied. “I’m talking about 20 Senate Republicans who were mad at Secretary Mnuchin and saying that the proposal of $1.8 trillion was way too much. They called it a death knell.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed skepticism that a massive new relief package could pass the Senate in the coming weeks. He’s focused the chamber’s attention on confirming Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
Many Republicans have also raised the specter of an expanding budget deficit after lawmakers enacted trillions in pandemic aid in the spring. The Senate GOP rolled out a narrower relief bill in September, but the measure was blocked by Democrats.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.