Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on Tuesday blamed governors for blocking a “strengthening economic recovery” by refusing to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
He also said that, in the meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer need to return to the negotiating table for another round of economic stimulus and relief measures.
Mr. Mnuchin said he is prepared to negotiate with Mrs. Pelosi at “any time” but she and other Democratic leaders want to arbitrarily pre-negotiate a price tag.
“Unfortunately, Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi do not want to sit down at the negotiating table unless we publicly agree on a top line,” he told the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus. “My own opinion is we should go piece by piece [and] any area of the legislation we can agree on we should have the House and the Senate pass.”
Mrs. Pelosi said on MSNBC this week that the talks collapsed because administration officials “do not understand the gravity of the problem” facing the country.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are preparing to roll out a package, potentially totaling about $500 billion, when lawmakers return next week from summer vacation.
The Trump administration tried to take matters into its own hands Tuesday by announcing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would move to halt evictions for renters earning up to $99,000 per year to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and mitigate some related economic pain.
The fight over federal relief spending and states’ reopening plans are amplified by the November elections. Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has blamed President Trump for the economic slump, and Mr. Trump points the finger at Democratic governors he says are intentionally trying to hamstring a recovery to damage him politically.
Mr. Trump called it “dangerous” when Mr. Biden pledged recently to shut down the economy again if that’s what scientists recommend.
“We did the right thing. We shut it down, and now we built it up, and we are setting records on job numbers, we’re setting records on retail numbers,” the president said on Fox News.
At the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, echoed Mr. Trump.
“Democrats keep their states locked down, [and] then they complain about unemployment,” he said. “Here’s a novel idea: Let people go back to work, and I bet you’ll get a lot less of it.”
Rep. James E. Clyburn, the Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, disputed that characterization.
“I’m from South Carolina, and we got a very Republican governor and we have not reopened. Partially, yes, [but] this is not just Democratic governors not reopening schools and businesses,” he said. “I’m looking forward to all 50 states reopening, and we are not there yet.”
States are no longer operating under the strict stay-at-home orders many enacted earlier this year, but some have paused or rolled back reopening plans as COVID-19 cases surged across the South and West this summer.
Congress and Mr. Trump have approved close to $3 trillion in relief spending, which is credited with boosting jobs, retail sales and the real estate market.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that more than 1 million new jobless claims were filed for the second consecutive week for the week ending Aug. 22.
Earlier in August, new weekly claims dipped below 1 million for the first time since March.
More than 58 million total claims have been filed since the pandemic took hold.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 10.2% in July and employers added about 1.8 million jobs, though the job growth slowed a bit compared with May and June as some states dealt with a resurgence of cases.
Mr. Mnuchin said economic decisions need to be paired with public health concerns but that unemployment would drop “significantly” by the end of the year if more states reopen.
“I believe there’s no question that the reason we have unemployment is that certain states are not opening up,” he said.
On his way to visit riot-scarred Kenosha, Wisconsin, Mr. Trump on Tuesday touted record highs in the stock market and said some of the recent economic numbers have been “incredible.”
“You look at the V. Now I think it’s a super V,” the president said. “We’re going to have an incredible economy. Next year’s going to be one of the best years that we’ve ever had, and everybody’s getting a big tax cut.”
He promised to push for additional support for the airline industry, which has been ravaged by the pandemic.
The administration’s eviction moratorium, announced Tuesday, would be in effect through the end of the year and would apply to individuals earning up to $99,000 per year and couples earning up to $198,000 per year.
Renters have to affirm that they are unable to make rent because of COVID-19 and that they will likely become homeless or end up living in close quarters with others if they are evicted.
The Democratic-led House passed a nearly $3.5 trillion package in May that extended a $600-per-week boost in federal unemployment benefits through January, provided another round of stimulus checks for millions of Americans, and included about $1 trillion in relief for cash-strapped states and localities.
The juiced-up unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, though Mr. Trump took executive action to try to partially restore the enhanced benefits, defer payroll taxes, and halt evictions and student loan payments.
Senate Republicans, who declared House Democrats’ bill dead on arrival, countered with their own $1 trillion relief bill in July.
Mr. Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to meet Democratic negotiators in the middle, but they were unable to strike a deal and lawmakers left for their August vacations before passing another bill.
Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats would be willing to go to $2.2 trillion. Mr. Mnuchin said he doesn’t support that.
“What’s more important is what is the breakdown,” he said. “The president and I want to move forward.”
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