Mnuchin says compromise possible on testing in COVID bill

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Washington — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled that the White House is willing to compromise with House Democrats over a provision on testing in a coronavirus relief proposal, saying that he would tell Pelosi “we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way” of crafting a deal. However, Senate Republicans have signaled that they would be unwilling to consider such a large package.

“When I speak to Pelosi today, I’m going to tell her that we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way, that we’ll fundamentally agree with their testing language subject to minor issues,” Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday morning.

Pelosi had previously rejected a $1.8 trillion proposal by the White House, arguing that it did not go as far as the $2.4 trillion relief measure passed in the House last month. But there’s another obstacle — the number Mnuchin and Pelosi are negotiating is far higher than the one Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is willing to consider.

McConnell said last month that the idea a $2 trillion bill would be considered the a GOP-controlled Senate is “outlandish.”

McConnell said that the Senate will vote on its own slimmed-down coronavirus relief proposal later this month. He told reporters in Kentucky on Thursday that “we’re in discussions with the secretary of the Treasury and the speaker about a higher amount,” but said “that’s not what I’m going to put on the floor.”

When specifically asked if there could be a compromise within a $2 trillion range, McConnell said “I don’t think so.”

“That’s where the administration’s willing to go. My members think what we laid out, a half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go,” McConnell said.

Nonetheless, President Trump blamed Pelosi for any delays in negotiations in a tweet Thursday evening.

“Pelosi is holding up STIMULUS, not the Republicans!” Mr. Trump wrote. Mr. Trump has urged Congress to “go big or go home” on coronavirus legislation. The president said in an interview Fox Business earlier on Thursday that he would be willing to go above $1.8 trillion for a final deal.

“I would, absolutely I would. I would take more. I would go higher,” Mr. Trump told host Stuart Varney. He also claimed that such a large bill would get support from Republicans, which is far from certain.

A spokesperson for Pelosi wrote Thursday on Twitter that the speaker and Mnuchin had spoken for nearly an hour and a half that afternoon.

“The Speaker and Secretary Mnuchin spoke at 3:30 p.m. today for 1 hr, 22 mins. The Secretary stated he would accept Democrats’ language for a national strategic testing plan with “minor” edits & that language would be shared tomorrow. The Speaker looks forward to reviewing,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, wrote. Hammill said that Pelosi “raised Leader McConnell’s comments today about not being willing to put a comprehensive package on the Senate floor.”

“The Secretary indicated that the President would weigh in with Leader McConnell should an agreement be reached,” Hammill wrote. According to the timing described in Hammill’s tweet, Mr. Trump would have sent his tweet condemning Pelosi while Mnuchin and Pelosi were still speaking.

Mnuchin said Thursday morning the White House and Democrats have agreed to $178 billion overall for health measures, with $75 billion going to testing and contact tracing, and to $28 billion for vaccines and distribution. He said the White House would not move forward with a deal on testing without additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. 

Some members of Congress are pushing Pelosi to come to a deal with the White House. Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna and Congressman Tom Malinowski have both publicly urged Pelosi to accept the $1.8 trillion. Pelosi pushed back against any opposition in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, saying that she was the one in charge of negotiations.

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