- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin urged congressional Democrats on Wednesday to come back to the bargaining table to work out a fifth coronavirus relief bill of slightly more than $1 trillion in aid for schools and small businesses.

Four days after President Trump bypassed Congress by signing executive actions to cut payroll taxes and extend unemployment benefits, Mr. Mnuchin said more needs to be done to boost the economy.

“Let’s do this,” he said on Fox Business. “There are things that we’d still like to do with additional legislation. Let’s spend a little over $1 trillion on areas of the economy that are going to be very impactful now that we can agree on.”

Talks between the White House and Democratic leaders broke down last week, with Democrats seeking more than $3 trillion in aid. Mr. Mnuchin reiterated that one of the biggest sticking points was Democrats’ demand of nearly $1 trillion for states and cities whose budgets have been hit by the response to the pandemic.

“Now is the time to have bipartisan support to help our kids go to school safely, help our small businesses, to help our hospitals, to help rental assistance, airports, broadband, vaccines,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “These are all things that are critical to the American people, as opposed to bickering about whether there’s enough money. Let’s get money to work now.”

The unemployment rate fell to 10.2% in July as employers added about 1.8 million jobs. But job growth slowed from its pace in May and June as many states experienced a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Treasury secretary even offered to do a sixth relief bill after the November election if more stimulus is needed.

“This will be the fifth bill,” he said of the current stalled talks. “We can always come back later in the year, or in January, and do a sixth bill. We don’t need to do everything at once.”

Mr. Mnuchin said he “can’t speculate” whether the administration will be able to work out a new deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

“If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal,” the Treasury secretary said. “If the Democrats can be reasonable and put politics aside, this will be good for American workers and the American economy, and we’ll continue the expansion.”

He noted that the CARES Act provided $150 billion for states and cities in March, and that the White House offered another $150 billion in the most recent negotiations.

“That’s an awful lot of money, that’s $300 billion to state and local,” he said.

Mr. Mnuchin also said the president wants to cut capital gains taxes, which would require legislation, and to make permanent the deferral of payroll taxes that is set to begin on Sept. 1.

“We’re going to create a level of certainty for employers that want to participate,” he said. “He [Mr. Trump] will go back to Congress when he wins the election and will ask to have this money forgiven, and to have the Social Security trust fund fully topped up so that in no way does this impact Social Security.”

Payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare.

Mr. Trump’s actions on Saturday were aimed at providing $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits, down from $600, with states contributing 25% of the total. Democrats want to extend the $600 payments into next year.

Administration officials say those payments could begin within two weeks. The president also took action aimed at halting housing evictions and suspending student loan payments.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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