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CNBC Transcript: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Speaks with CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Today

WHEN: Today, Wednesday, April 1, 2020

WHERE: CNBC's "Squawk on the Street"

The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" (M-F 9AM – 11AM) today, Wednesday, April 1st. The following is a link to video of the interview on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2020/04/01/treasury-secretary-steven-mnuchin-coronavirus-stimulus-full-interview.html.

All references must be sourced to CNBC.

JIM CRAMER: It's our pleasure to bring in Steven Mnuchin. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for coming back to CNBC.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, it's great to be with you as usual.

JIM CRAMER: All right. So, I was thrilled last night. I got my U.S. Department of Treasury Assistance for small Business, the paycheck protection program, 349 billion, we have to get everybody who has small businesses to look at that immediately. How do we do that?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, as I said, this program is going to be up and running tomorrow. I'm pleased that working with the SBA, we'll be able to deliver it. As you said, the paycheck protection program, you can take out a loan for up to eight weeks of payroll as well as overhead. You hire the people back -- as long as you hire the people back, the loan is forgiven. I would encourage every small business go to Treasury.gov, there's a red banner on the top, click on it, you will get the information. And you can go to any SBA lender, you can go to any FDIC Insured Bank and any credit union, call your lender, see if they participate. I very much want people to sign up for this. It's a great way to hire people back or make sure you're getting paid if you have people at work. And this will cover about 50% of the payroll of the private enterprises.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Yep. I thought this was the single most important thing that's happened so far, including the overhead, which I thought was fantastic. Let's talk about the next program. We started hearing bubbling up the notion that both parties would like to see a bond, perhaps some sort of infrastructure or anti-COVID bond. Now, Mr. Secretary, you know the credit markets better than any Treasury Secretary that we've ever had, maybe Secretary Rubin, but you know that 30 years is a giveaway, 1.2%. Can we buy that? We want to buy COVID war bonds. Will you give us that opportunity?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, you can buy as many 30 years as you want. That's no problem. We'll also be selling 20 years as well. And let me just say, the borrowing on the short end of the curve is extremely attractive for us as well. So, we're very focused on executing the existing plans and doing the government financing, which is being very well received.

JIM CRAMER: Can you give us a sense of -- the country is about to pay rent, I -- we have the CEO of Citi later on, Michael Corbat. I'm concerned people will say, you know, what I don't have to pay my rent. The ripple effect, particularly at the corporate level, could be as bad as what happened during the great recession according to some. Could you give us your sense of how tough it could be in the mortgage market?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, let me say before I get to the mortgage market, with you are executing on these plans. We have the SBA plan, as I said the plan of direct deposit, which is going to be up and running in another few weeks, that will get money into people's accounts. We also have enhanced unemployment insurance. So, hopefully, workers, no fault of their own, who are not working because of this, they are going to get money in their pockets and to the extent that they have problems with mortgages, the FHA has already come out and said they will forebear. So, what that means is if people don't have jobs and people have hardship, they can forebear. If people do have jobs, we expect those people to continue to pay mortgages. But that will be dealt with on a bank by bank basis. The most important thing is that FHA loans, GSE loans, Fannie and Freddie, which is the majority of the market, the government will be giving people time to pay those loans.

DAVID FABER: Mr. Secretary, it's David Faber. Jim referenced this I think in part in his question, but I would love to follow up. The President recently Tweeting about a big infrastructure effort, perhaps as much as $2 trillion. Is that a real effort? Are you in negotiations at all within the House and the Senate in terms of trying to get something, as this is called, Phase Four sort of plan?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, as you know, the President is very interested in infrastructure. This goes back to the campaign. The President very much wants to rebuild the country. With interest rates low, that's something that is very important to him. We have been discussing this for the last year, with the Democrats and the Republicans. I've had ongoing conversations with Richard Neil on this. We'll continue to have those conversations. So, we expect there will be more bills. And we think it is a great time now to invest in infrastructure.

CARL QUINTANILLA: Mr. Secretary, it's Carl Quintanilla. Our Eamon Javers reporting on how quickly plans are being made for a Phase Four stimulus package. His reporting suggests that the emphases of the White House is on executing Phase Three. Can you talk about that?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, again, let me say, the most important issue is execution on what we have. We have a lot of money. We need to get that into hard-working American's hands. We also have facilities that we're working closely with the fed that will inject a lot of money into the economy quickly. As I said, we need to get these things going in the next few weeks. Having money that's sitting around and distributing in months does no good to hard-working Americans. One of the things I've heard is, you know, the small business program will be so popular we'll run out of our 350 billion. If that's the case, that will be the top of the list for me to go back to Congress on. It has huge bipartisan support and want to protect small business. But we're also coming out with a Main Street Lending Program with the Fed that will help mid-sized businesses, we'll be looking at programs for state and local governments. We've already had programs for large companies, for money markets to support money markets. So, I can assure you, Jay Powell and I are working around-the-clock at providing liquidity into the economy.

JIM CRAMER: Thank you again for this. People don't understand the contrast between 2007, 2009, big banks get bailed out. You're helping the base of the country. 85% of the workers can be covered ultimately by what you're doing. And as someone who is already filling this out, I think people have to fill it out. It is vital. There should be no excuses for small business, because you're making money available. Now, how about these big banks? Yesterday, the Bank of England said, you know what? The banks over there, they should halt paying their dividends. Now, I understand we stopped the buybacks. Do we need to stop paying dividend the at our banks?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, I'm going to leave that to the banks. We want to make sure they have plenty of capital to grow their business. I assume that is there number one issue. They want to make loans to help American business. That is their priority. I'm sure that's where they're going to be focused on putting their capital. As I spoke to every single one of these bankers, the good news is our banks are in good shape. They're out there lending. They want to support the makers. They want to support small business. And that's their focus.

JIM CRAMER: Now, I know you can't reveal who is a necessary entity versus who isn't. But we do have two different travel entities out there. We have the cruise ships, by the way, that don't pay U.S. taxes, and I think that is probable of interest to you and the airlines that do. Are you ready to take stakes in the airlines, which will keep them alive? Because when this is over, we need strong airlines. But do we need strong cruise ships?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, Jim, let me say that the way the program works with Congress is it's very specific. There are limited industries that I can deal with direct, the airlines, the passenger airlines, the cargo airlines, and national security companies are the only areas and their contractors that we can deal with direct. And we have begun to have those discussions. We posted applications for the airlines. We'll be sitting down with them. Again, it's very critical. Anything they take, they will have to maintain, all of their employees. So, we're working on that quickly. We do not have the ability under the congressional programs to do anything with cruise ships direct. We do have the ability to do broad-based programs with the Fed where everybody is treated equally.

DAVID FABER: Mr. Secretary, I guess it's David Faber again. On the airlines, what are your expectations there's in terms of willingness to potentially take or allow the government to take equity stakes? I think there's some concern among the employees they won't do that and jobs will be lost and time is of the essence given those incredible numbers being so low in terms of passengers on the airlines right now.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Time is definitely of the essence. Let me comment, you look very comfortable in your home there. I don't want you guys to get too used to this. I want to see you back in the studio. But let me say, time is of the essence. We will be doing this very quickly. These are going to be optional programs. We're not forcing airlines to do these deals. We'll make these available to the airlines. If they want to take them, they'll take them. I think, as you know, different airlines are different credits. We've been clear that taxpayers will be compensated for anything we do.

JIM CRAMER: I wanted to follow up as well on my previous question that you answered about potential infrastructure bills. You said, Mr. Secretary, at the end of your comment that there will be more bills. Were you referring to infrastructure bills or were you referring to in general more bills dealing with the relief that this economy needs?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: The President has been very clear. He's prepared to do whatever needs to be done to make sure American workers and American business is protected. This is a unique situation, an issue because of a medical issue, we're fighting a war on this virus, which we will win, we have shut down parts of the economy, the President is determined that we will protect American workers, American business. We have a lot of money to do that. If we need more programs or more money, we'll be going back to Congress and asking for that.

JIM CRAMER: Mr. Secretary, I think that it's very explicit how you do the loan. I thank you for making it so that you can, really, just read it and click and get it. What I want to know, how do we get the word out to people who have one and two people at their – this is what I know you're really focused on. I know you're focused on the business that's ten people. I know you're focused on the business three people. When I read this, I was shocked at how – that you give us even some overhead protection. How do we in the media get the word out? Because there's tremendous negativity about what's going on in the actual, of course, COVID world. But this is something I've never seen before. I think this is something I that a lot of people may not even know they can apply to. What do we do to let people know that this is a way to keep your job during this period?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Jim, you have to keep talking about it and get everybody to sign up. So, you know, I want to thank all the people at the SBA and Treasury who have literally been working 24 hours. The fact we've been able to get up a new program in less than a week is just extraordinary.  As you said, this not only covers small businesses, it will cover independent contractors, as well as self-employed and sole proprietors. It will take an extra week for us to get that up and running. So, that will be up and running next Friday. And I just want to thank everyone in the government who delivered on our commitment to get this up and running tomorrow.

JIM CRAMER: Mr. Secretary, really concerned about the job creation that was the Permian, the job creation that was—I'd say, let's just call it something—I know our President worries tremendously about, our energy independence. Can we really let this happen? Can we really let oil go to $10 and wipe out our own independence and wipe out an energy that I know you think is important for job creation? Can we just stand by and let that happen?

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, Jim, you know, we talked about getting approval from Congress of buying oil at these prices, filling up our strategic reserves. We'll continue to ask Congress for that approval. And I know the President has had calls with both Saudi Arabia and Russia to talk about this. The President is absolutely determined to protect our energy independence and our ability to continue in this industry, which is a very important industry for our workers.

DAVID FABER: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned to Jim the Fed's Main Street Lending Program. Can you give us a little more sense as to when it's going to be fully implemented? What your conversations with Chairman Powell focus on? Just a bit more there in terms of allowing us to understand what could be an enormous impact, obviously, from that program.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, both the Fed and Treasury have a team of people. We're meeting on this every day. It's a very big priority. It's something we're focused on, the design. But we want to make sure that mid-market companies have access to liquidity. And, again, I can't comment on the exact timing, but let me say it will hopefully be soon. Because again, all these programs, we want to get up and running so that they're available to American business and American workers quickly. That's our objective and we'll be delivering on that shortly.

JIM CRAMER: Mr. Secretary, just one last one. I know that the Treasury seems to be a little bit adverse, as was -- when I used to ask Secretary Geithner about it, giving us a chance, Americans to buy a specifically labeled bond that would help small business. Why not have a Mnuchin bond, a President Trump bond -- I don't really care, a Crush COVID bond, why not give us something that is like the war? Because Americans want to contribute. And if you had a small business bond that would allow it so even businesses could begin when this is over, make new businesses, give them loans, I think it would be embraced by both Democrats, Republicans, provided it has infrastructure in it. And I know if you got behind it, sir, it would happen.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Well, Jim, we'll continue to work with you on that. As I said, our focus is making sure these programs get up and running. We've got $6 trillion to put into the economy. That should create a lot of liquidity, and a lot of help for small businesses and American workers. And as we deliver on that liquidity, it's going to create a lot of help. So, that's really our focus. As I said, we'll be working with the President on infrastructure and other areas to continue to work with Congress on.

JIM CRAMER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for calling in. Thank you so much for doing what you said would do and more for small business, because that's 85% of our country. Always great to talk to you.

STEVEN MNUCHIN: Good. And Jim, I'd only hope you guys keep on talking about the small business loans all day. Go to Treasury.gov, get the information, call your lenders, sign up.

JIM CRAMER: We sure will. Because that is the backbone of our country.

For more information contact: 

Jennifer Dauble
CNBC
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e: jennifer.dauble@nbcuni.com

Emma Martin 
CNBC
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e: emma.martin@nbcuni.com