“I say we’re going to give it one more serious try to get this done and I think we’re hopeful that we can get something done,” he said during the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor. “I think there is a reasonable compromise here.”
The Treasury secretary added that he aims to find an “understanding” with Pelosi on a broad relief package by Thursday. Mnuchin said an offer he expects to bring to the speaker — a counter to the $2.2 trillion aid bill the House could vote on this week — will resemble the roughly $1.5 trillion bipartisan House Problem Solvers caucus proposal put forward earlier this month.
Pelosi previously rejected that plan. The legislation included $450 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits during an eight-week transition period, another round of $1,200 direct payments and more Paycheck Protection Program small business loan funding, among other provisions.
The Trump administration and Democratic leaders have failed to forge a consensus on what to include in a fifth coronavirus relief package as the outbreak ravages American lives and livelihoods. Before Mnuchin and Pelosi renewed talks in recent days, doubts had grown about Congress’ ability to pass new aid before the Nov. 3 election.
Both the Treasury secretary and House speaker sounded more optimistic about progress Wednesday than they have in recent weeks. In an MSNBC interview, Pelosi also said she is “hopeful” about the potential for an agreement.
“We’ll just see what they come back with today and how our negotiations go next,” she said.
Mnuchin said the sides have found consensus on several major issues. Those include small business loans, funding for schools, direct payments to individuals, airline aid and employee retention tax credits.
He said the White House will still push for liability protections for businesses and schools — a provision Democrats have previously opposed. While Mnuchin added that the Trump administration supports some new relief for state and local governments, it is unclear if their offer will appease Democrats, who have proposed more than $400 billion in aid over a year.
Of course, any agreement the White House and Democrats reach will also have to get through the Republican-held Senate. As GOP lawmakers grow weary of spending trillions to bolster the federal response to the pandemic, the Senate tried to pass a roughly $500 billion relief plan earlier this month.
Democrats blocked it and called it inadequate.
Mnuchin said he and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows spoke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday to update them on the talks.
“Let’s see if we can get a compromise agreement with the speaker, something that works, and then we’ll continue to work with both sides on all the exact language and the policies,” Mnuchin said.
The pandemic continues to ravage the United States, which is reporting tens of thousands of new cases per day on average. While the job market has rebounded since a wave of virus-related layoffs in the spring, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 8.4% in August as industries including restaurants, travel and entertainment buckle under restrictions meant to slow the outbreak’s spread.