Trump raises stimulus offer to USD 1.8 trillion days after halting negotiations

Washington Published: Oct 10, 2020, 03:48 PM(IST)

Screengrab from Donald Trump's video message to his supporters from the Walter Reed Medical Centre, Washington where he was being treated for COVID-19. Photograph:( WION Web Team )

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The new proposal’s price tag of $1.8 trillion, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a roughly 30-minute phone call, was nearly double the original offer the administration put forward when talks began in late summer.

The White House moved aggressively on Friday to revive stimulus talks that President Donald Trump had called off just days earlier, putting forward its largest offer for economic relief yet as administration officials and embattled Republican lawmakers scrambled to avoid being blamed by voters for failing to deliver needed aid before the election.

The new proposal’s price tag of $1.8 trillion, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a roughly 30-minute phone call, was nearly double the original offer the administration put forward when talks began in late summer.

It was the latest indication that the White House was eager to backtrack from Trump’s decision Tuesday to abruptly halt negotiations, and it reflected a growing sense of dread both at the White House and among vulnerable Senate Republicans facing reelection about the political consequences of his actions. The offer also highlighted the deep and persistent divisions among Republicans — most of whom have balked at a large new federal infusion of pandemic aid — that have complicated the negotiations for months.

Now, with Trump pressing to “Go Big,” as he put it in a tweet Friday, he has raised the prospect of pushing through a plan that his own party refuses to accept, giving Pelosi and Democrats fresh leverage to dictate the terms of any deal.

On Friday, she was continuing to hold out for more concessions. While Mnuchin’s latest offer “attempted to address some of the concerns Democrats have,” Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said it did not include an agreement on a national strategy for testing, tracing and other efforts to contain the spread of the virus, which the speaker has pushed for in recent weeks. “For this and other provisions, we are still awaiting language from the administration as negotiations on the overall funding amount continue.”

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“I do hope we will have an agreement soon but, as you say, they keep changing,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. Referring to Trump’s tweets that temporarily ended the negotiations, she added that the president “got a terrible backlash from it, including in the stock market, which is what he cares about. And so then he started to come back little by little, and now a bigger package.”

Speaking on right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s show, Trump conceded that he had changed his position on approving additional coronavirus aid before Election Day, declaring “I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering.” (Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, later contradicted Trump’s assertion, telling reporters at the White House that the administration wanted a final package to remain below $2 trillion, which is less than the $2.2 trillion measure Pelosi pushed through the House this month.)

Such sums are deeply alarming to most Republicans, who are increasingly contemplating their party’s future after Trump departs the political scene and are determined to reclaim the mantle of the party of fiscal restraint. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, warned Trump in a phone call this week that most Republican senators would not embrace a stimulus measure as large as Pelosi wanted, an assessment that appeared to play a role in the president’s decision to tweet an end to the talks.

Speaking to reporters in Kentucky on Friday, McConnell continued to cast doubt on the chances of a deal in the coming weeks, saying political divisions remained too deep.

“The situation is kind of murky and I think the murkiness is a result of the proximity to the election and everybody kind of trying to elbow for political advantage,” McConnell said. “I’d like to see us rise above that like we did back in March and April, but I think that’s unlikely in the next three weeks.”

Privately though, McConnell has come under renewed pressure to allow a deal to go forward.

Multiple rank-and-file Republicans, including some in tough reelection contests, like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and David Perdue of Georgia, pressed McConnell during a phone call Thursday for him to act on a stimulus measure, according to two people familiar with the discussion who asked for anonymity to disclose details of a private conversation.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said on Twitter that she had spoken with Trump and “relayed to him what I’ve heard from folks across the state: Iowans need additional COVID-19 relief.”

“I’m hopeful Congress can come together once again — Rs and Ds — and provide more support to hardworking Americans,” Ernst added.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., one of the senators who was on the call with McConnell, said in an interview that he had pushed for a compromise with Democrats, noting that “if you really want to pass something, it has to be bipartisan, right?”

“We’re constitutionally required to work on the nation’s problems, and this is something we should work on,” he added.

But other Republicans are wary of the liberal provisions that Mnuchin may agree to in order to win Pelosi’s support. Many of them opposed the original $1 trillion offer McConnell presented in July, after days of haggling with the White House, in part because they were concerned about adding to the national debt. Top Republicans scaled back the offer considerably, proposing a $350 billion plan that drew objections from Democrats, who called it inadequate.

Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion plan is “not going to fly very far over here, at least on the Republican side, so we’ll see,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters Friday on Capitol Hill. “Maybe it’ll have to be after the election — if anybody can calm down after that.”

In the House, vulnerable Republicans have also raised concerns about facing voters without a stimulus deal.

“There is still room for bipartisan agreement on the next stimulus package, and I am committed to show up to vote at any hour to support legislation that will help American families and small businesses,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., chair of the House Suburban Caucus, who is facing a tough reelection battle in her district in the suburbs of St. Louis. “These priorities should not be politicized, and we must come to an agreement that helps America’s families at what is an incredibly difficult moment.”

With less than a month before Election Day, it also remains unclear if there is enough time for Congress to push through a stimulus agreement as Senate Republicans also move to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

In his series of tweets Tuesday, Trump instructed Senate Republicans “to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court.”

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