Mnuchin offers $916bn COVID-19 relief plan to US Congress

Aid to state and local governments, liability protections for businesses are key stumbling blocks to an agreement.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has proposed a compromise coronavirus aid package to Congress on behalf of President Trump [File: Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters]

United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented a $916bn coronavirus relief proposal to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday evening in the White House’s first bid since the election to break a deadlock in the US Congress.

Acting on behalf of President Donald Trump, Secretary Mnuchin said his proposal is slightly larger than a $908bn bipartisan plan offered by a group of Republican and Democratic senators last week.

It would include bailout money for state local governments and liability protections for businesses. Thus far, both have been stumbling blocks to a bipartisan agreement that could pass the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate.

Mnuchin said in a statement on Twitter he hoped “to achieve bipartisan agreement so we can provide the critical economic relief to American works, families and businesses”.

The plan has been reviewed with the president and Republican leaders, and would repurpose existing COVID-19 funds to help pay for it, Mnuchin said

“As part of this proposal, we will fund it using $140bn in unused funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and $429bn in Treasury funds,” Mnuchin said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she hopes President Trump will support adding $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans to the COVID-19 relief package now being negotiated in Congress [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

Both parties are under mounting pressure to deliver a fresh infusion of coronavirus aid to families and businesses reeling from a pandemic that has killed more than 283,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work.

A group of emergency aid programmes implemented in response to the pandemic, including additional unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evicting tenants is set to expire at the end of December.

House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, hope to attach long-awaited COVID-19 relief to a broad $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that legislators are also trying to pass this month.

Legislators enacted $3 trillion in COVID-19 aid earlier this year but have not been able to agree on fresh relief since April.

Mnuchin’s proposal followed a series of manoeuvres by politicians on Capitol Hill earlier on Tuesday.

There was new talk in the US Capitol of adding a $1,200 per-person stimulus cheque for Americans to the emerging COVID-19 package, similar to checks sent earlier this year.

Pelosi, in a quick hallway conversation with reporters, said she hoped $1,200 checks could be included.

“I hope so. But that’s really more up to the president (Donald Trump) if he would be agreeable to do that, but we’re all for it,” she said.

Senator Dick Durbin, the Number 2 Senate Democrat, said senators were hearing from the White House that Trump would support sending a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals.

Separately, McConnell proposed to shelve the liability shield for businesses, a controversial pet provision – but only if Democrats agree to set aside Pelosi’s demand for $160bn to help states and local governments with fiscal relief.

“What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local, and pass those things that we can agree on, knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year,” McConnell told reporters.

“Why don’t we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues?”

McConnell’s offer was immediately rejected by Democrats. He had previously sent more positive signals that state and local fiscal relief would likely have to be an element of a COVID-19 relief agreement given Democratic control of the House.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said ongoing bipartisan negotiations were the best way forward for reaching a deal.

“Leader McConnell has refused to be part of the bipartisan negotiations and now he’s sabotaging good-faith bipartisan negotiations because his partisan ideological effort is not getting a good reception,” Schumer said.

Notably, US airlines would receive $17bn for four months of payroll support under the $908bn bipartisan Senate COVID-19 relief proposal offered last week, aides for two US Senators said.

The offices of Senators Mitt Romney and Mark Warner said the plan includes $15bn for public transport systems, $4bn for airports, $8bn for private buses and $1bn for passenger railway Amtrak.

Congress and President-elect Joe Biden can decide next year if more funds should be approved beyond March, Senator Joe Manchin said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies