Coronavirus USA

Stimulus check: Mnuchin says an agreement could happen this week

The US Treasury Secretary on Monday said the Trump administration and Congress could reach a coronavirus aid deal as soon as this week.

Stimulus check: Mnuchin says an agreement could happen this week
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP

Senior Republicans have intimated they would be open to returning to the negotiating table with Democrat negotiators for another attempt to reach a deal on the fifth stimulus package after a 7 August deadline came and went with the two parties failing to see eye-to-eye on a range of subjects. The one that is most pressing for Americans who have been hard-hit by rising unemployment during the Covid-19 crisis is whether or not there will be a second round of stimulus checks – something that has been temporarily shelved after talks collapsed. That issue was not included in President Donald Trump’s executive orders, signed on Saturday to consternation from both sides of the political divide.

With negotiations at a standstill and 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 coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 162,000 Americans.

US 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.

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

Trump signs executive orders

Stimulus check: Mnuchin says an agreement could happen this week

Coronavirus USAUS President Donald Trump listens to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

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 for millions of hard-hit Americans. There was no mention of a second round of stimulus checks among Trump’s memorandums, although both Democrats, Republicans and the president have called for a new tranche of payments to be issued.

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 – the HEROES Act - but the Republican-led Senate did not respond with a proposal of its own before unveiling a $1 trillion package late last month – the HEALS Act- around the time senior Trump administration officials began negotiating with the Democrats.

Mnuchin: "I think they're willing to compromise"

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.