President Trump said Thursday he would raise his offer for a coronavirus relief package above the White House‘s current $1.8 trillion proposal amid a months-long impasse with Democratic leaders over more funding.
“I would,” he told FOX Business’ Stuart Varney when asked whether the White House would increase its offer. “Absolutely, I would. I would say more. I would go higher. Go big or go home, I said it yesterday.”
“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to give anything. She thinks it helps her with the election,” the president continued. “And I don’t think so. I think it hurts her with the election because everyone knows she’s holding it up. We’re not holding it up. She’s holding it up.”
“She’s got a lot of problems,” he said. “She got a lot of mental problems. And it’s going to be very hard to do anything with her. She wants to wait till after the election.”
The Trump administration’s latest proposal — its largest yet — drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats last week, dimming the odds of another round of emergency aid before the Nov. 3 election. It was expected to include a second round of direct payments of up to $1,200 for adults and $1,000 for children; expanded unemployment benefits at $400 per week and additional funding for state and local governments.
In a weekly letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the administration’s proposal lacked a “strategic plan to crush the virus” and gave President Trump too much power in determining how the funds were spent.
“This proposal amounted to one step forward, two steps back,” Pelosi said in the letter. She later identified a lack of funding for testing as one of the main sticking points in negotiations.
But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday during an interview with CNBC that the testing issue was “getting overblown.” The administration agreed to allocate $178 billion overall for health and $75 billion for contact tracing and testing, he said.
“What we have been focused on is the language around testing,” he said. “When I speak to Pelosi today, I’m going to tell her that we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way. We’ll fundamentally agree with their testing language subject to some minor issues. This issue is being overblown.”
Trump said he told Mnuchin that he was willing to go higher than $1.8 trillion, but said his Treasury secretary “hasn’t come home with the bacon.”
For months, Congress has struggled to reach an agreement on additional stimulus. Negotiations first collapsed in early August, prompting Trump to sign four executive measures intended to provide relief to families still reeling from the virus-induced crisis, including temporarily extending supplemental jobless aid at $300 a week.
But that aid is beginning to expire, and lifelines that propped up the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic — like the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and sweetened unemployment benefits — lapsed weeks ago.
Although Democrats and Republicans broadly agree that another bill is necessary to aid the economy’s recovery, they sharply disagree over the size and scope of it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday the Senate will vote on a “targeted” coronavirus relief bill next week, including another round of funding for a key small-business rescue program, money for schools, liability protections for businesses and boosted unemployment benefits.
“When the full Senate returns on Oct. 19, our first order of business will be voting again on targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the PPP,” McConnell said. Democrats previously rejected a $500 billion “skinny” proposal put forward by Republicans over the summer, and have pushed back against “piecemeal” legislation.
While Trump said he supported using leftover money from the CARES Act in “some form,” he maintained the need for a broader stimulus package, just one week after he abruptly called off negotiations altogether. The president suggested it was possible Congress could still pass legislation before the Nov. 3 election, despite an increasingly tight timeframe.
“I think there’s a chance. I do, because I think there’s a lot of pressure on Pelosi,” he said. “They have a lot of sane people in the Democrat Party. And I really think that she’s being at some point, you might very well say, ‘Hey, look, I got to do this.’ They’ve got a lot of pressure on them. The Republicans are willing to do it. I’d like to see more money because it comes back. It’s going to come back anyway.”
Economists have urged lawmakers to pass another round of emergency aid, or risk imperiling the nation’s tepid turnaround from the virus-induced crisis. There are still 10 million more unemployed Americans than there were in February, before the economy shut down.
“Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week. “The recovery will be stronger and move faster if monetary policy and fiscal policy continue to work side by side to provide support to the economy until it is clearly out of the woods.”
Any bill still needs to get through the Democratic-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate, where some Republicans have expressed concern about another massive spending initiative amid the nation’s ballooning deficit, which is projected to hit a record-shattering $3.3 trillion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.