Trump mulls higher US stimulus offer as Mnuchin downplays deal

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Lawmakers and the White House are unlikely to finalise a new stimulus plan before the November election, United States (US) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday, even as his boss President Donald Trump indicated he may raise his offer.

But there were signs late in the day that the impasse might be easing, after Mnuchin said the administration would agree on a national testing plan Democrats have called for in the package to help ease the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It was a small but potentially significant step after months of fruitless talks on a successor to the USD2.2 trillion CARES Act approved in March as the pandemic was taking hold.

Key provisions of that package have expired, depriving small businesses of support and sparking mass layoffs by US airlines.

But with the November 3 election drawing ever nearer and Democrats and Republicans still arguing over how much to spend and in what form, Mnuchin acknowledged the talks are facing tough odds.

United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talks with reporters outside the White House. PHOTO: AP

“A deal would be hard to get done before the election, but we’re going to keep trying,” he said in an interview on CNBC, adding that “there are significant issues.”

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives recently approved a USD2.2 trillion bill to boost the virus-damaged economy, but the latest White House proposal was for USD1.8 trillion, and Pelosi called it insufficient.

Trailing badly in national polls behind Democrat Joe Biden and as record numbers of voters are casting their ballots early, with signs the tally favours Trump’s challenger, the president has turned cheerleader for a rescue package.

Despite abruptly shutting down the talks last week, and then quickly reversing course, Trump said he would support a bigger stimulus plan.

The Democratic leader told Mnuchin she welcomed the president’s willingness to “go big or go home,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter late on Thursday.

The two officials spoke for nearly 90 minutes and “The Secretary stated he would accept Democrats’ language for a national strategic testing plan with ‘minor’ edits,” Hammill said.

Pelosi said in an interview on MSNBC late Wednesday that a new bill must have a “clear plan to crush the virus” as well as funds for education and to protect worker safety.

The stimulus talks have dogged Wall Street in recent days as traders began realising new economic government spending may not be approved any time soon, but the Dow regained some ground after Trump’s comments, closing flat on Thursday.