U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task Wednesday, saying she should abandon her “all-or-nothing” approach to the drawn-out coronavirus fiscal stimulus talks.
The pair talked again Wednesday by phone, according to a Pelosi spokesman, this time for about an hour. While it was the first time the two had spoken substantively since Friday, no breakthroughs were made.
“One major area of disagreement continues to be that the White House lacks an understanding of the need for a national strategic testing plan. The Speaker believes we must reopen our economy & schools safely & soon, & scientists agree we must have a strategic testing plan,” said Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, in a Tweet.
Mnuchin, in a moderated video chat sponsored by the Milken Institute, said he and Pelosi had “a comprehensive discussion on a lot of issues.”
“We continue to have discussions and try to compromise on a broader package. I will say, from our standpoint, the all-or-nothing approach doesn’t makes sense,” Mnuchin said.
He said there was likely more than $300 billion in funding authorized previously that could be repurposed to help small businesses and for other uses, if Congress approved.
“Let’s not wait for the Big Bang and everything being perfect. Let’s get money into the economy now where we have bipartisan support,” Mnuchin said.
Pelosi has come under some fire for taking a hardline in the talks, as the price tags for packages from the White House and House Democrats have converged. The House passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill in late September before members left for the campaign trail. The White House has raised its offer to $1.8 trillion.
But while the administration and Pelosi keep talking about a comprehensive approach, it remains unclear a deal that big could be approved in the Senate, where party control of the chamber is up in the air based on polls in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 general election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnnell said Tuesday he would try to bring a $500 billion package to the Senate floor next week that would include politically popular items like a renewal of Paycheck Protection Program and enhanced benefits for the unemployed.
Read more: McConnell says he’ll try to move $500 billion stimulus package before Barrett vote
Pelosi late Tuesday bristled when CNN host Wolf Blitzer in a contentious interview repeatedly asked her if a smaller deal was better than none as the election approached and the chances for a longer delay in getting more money to the economy grew.
“I will not let the wrong be the enemy of the right,” Pelosi said.
“But let me say this: with all due respect, with all due respect – and you know we have known each other a long time – with all due respect, you really don’t know what you’re talking about if,” she said.
Read more: Pelosi to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: ‘You really don’t know what you’re talking about’
“Yes, there’s some people who’ve said this or that. Overwhelmingly, my caucus wants what is right for the American people, ” Pelosi said.
Pelosi has said there are policy issues in dispute, not just amounts of money, something Mnuchin apeared to concede in his talk.
“There are money issues. There’s also policy issues,” Mnuchin said, noting coronavirus-related legal liability protections for businesses and non-profits specifically.
If no deal can be cut before the election, the next two windows for action would be in the post-election lame duck session of Congress, possibly riding on a new government funding bill that must pass by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown, or in early 2021 in a Joe Biden administration.
But Mnuchin said they will continue to talk.
“The clock will not stop,” he said. “I’d say, at this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult, just given where we are in the level of details, but we’re going to try to continue to work through these issues.”