Coronavirus USA

Second stimulus check: agreement expected Friday according to Mnuchin

Senior Democrats and Republicans are due to resume talks over a new stimulus package with both sides aiming for an agreement by the end of the week.

Second stimulus check: agreement expected Friday according to Mnuchin
MANDEL NGAN AFP

Senior Democrats and Republicans are due to return to the negotiating table Thursday in a fresh attempt to hammer out a deal over a new stimulus package that will provide financial aid for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. However, the two parties remain deadlocked on a variety of issues including an extension to the additional unemployment benefit of $600 that expired on 31 July.

Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to push the legislation through before the Senate is scheduled to go into recess on 7 August but talks have been stilted and there are several issues requiring consensus, although both sides agree on the need for a second round of stimulus checks for U.S. citizens rowing against the tide of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Trump ready to intervene if talks fail to bear fruit

Donald Trump answers questions during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

After more than a week of talks and few signs of progress, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer were said to be aiming for a deal that could be passed by Congress next week.

President Donald Trump stood ready to use executive orders to address issues such as unemployment benefits and protections against evictions if talks failed, according to Meadows.

The four principal negotiators appeared to be near agreement on some topics, but still trillions of dollars apart on major issues including the size of a federal benefit for tens of millions of unemployed workers.

Mnuchin aiming for Friday agreement

"We're trying to get a deal that's good for the American public and American workers," Mnuchin told reporters after nearly two hours of talks on Wednesday.

"Our objective is to try to reach an understanding of the major issues by Friday. If we can't reach an agreement on the major issues, it's going to be hard to complete a deal."

Pelosi said on Wednesday that the timeline would depend on the course of the negotiations.

"The timetable really relates to the progress we make. How big will the bill be and how long will it last? Those are the questions," the Democratic congresswoman told MSNBC.

In the meantime, Trump said he was still considering unilateral action to stimulate the economy by allowing taxpayers to defer payroll tax payments.

"Well, I may do it myself," he said in an interview with Fox News. "I have the right to suspend it, and I may do it myself - I have the absolute right to suspend the payroll."

An earlier Trump demand for a payroll tax cut gained no traction among lawmakers of either party in Congress.

Despite some progress in coronavirus legislation talks, both sides remain far apart on a range of issues.

Republicans set against HEROES Act 

Mnuchin warned that the Trump administration would not accept "anything close" to the $3.4 trillion in new aid that Democrats were seeking. But he offered to extend through the end of the year an expired moratorium on evictions of people unable to pay their rent.

Schumer accused Republicans of failing to grasp the severity of the pandemic, which has killed more than 157,000 people in the United States.

"There must be a relief package commensurate with the size of this historic challenge," the New York Democrat said.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, the chamber's top Republican, who has not joined the negotiations, blamed Schumer and Pelosi for the lack of a deal: "Democratic leaders have moved about one inch, one inch in eight days."

In May, the Democratic-controlled House passed the HEROES Act, which included around $1 trillion to help state and local governments that have revenue shortfalls because of the huge slowdown in economic activity related to the pandemic.

McConnell has offered a $1 trillion proposal – the HEALS Act - that would significantly reduce an "enhanced" jobless benefit that expired on Friday.

Both sides say they support another round of direct payments to further help stimulate the economy and keep people afloat amid massive unemployment.

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