Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated Thursday that the White House will not back the kind of sweeping coronavirus relief it supported in earlier bills, instead opting for narrower aid even as the pandemic ravages the United States.
Congress plans to return from a Fourth of July break later this month for two weeks of work before its August recess. Lawmakers aim to craft another relief package before the end of the month, but Republicans and Democrats appear at odds over how much aid to send a country still in the thick of fighting an outbreak that has killed more than 132,000 Americans.
While the Trump administration backs direct payments to individuals in the next bill, it has not embraced broad aid proposed by Democrats including hazard pay for essential workers, a longer extension of strengthened unemployment benefits, mortgage and rent relief and support for state and local governments.
Officials in Washington could find themselves at an impasse over how to handle an ongoing economic and health crisis that President Donald Trump has largely downplayed following two strong months of jobs growth.
Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, Mnuchin said "we do support another round" of stimulus checks to individuals, after most Americans received a $1,200 sum as part of the $2 trillion rescue legislation passed in March.
But he did not say whether he backed a potential $40,000 income cap floated by GOP lawmakers — lower than the $75,000 where the previous payment started to phase out. Mnuchin noted that he spoke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday and would discuss the "level and criteria" for checks with senators when they return to Washington.
The Treasury secretary also addressed one of the most urgent issues Congress faces in the talks: an income cliff millions of people will face at the end of July when the $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment benefit expires. Even though the economy gained nearly 5 million jobs in June, the unemployment rate dropped to a still staggering 11.1%.
Mnuchin said the White House wants to change rather than extend the enhanced unemployment provision. He did not give details on how it would want to structure aid to unemployed workers.
"You can assume that it will be no more than 100%" of a worker's usual pay, Mnuchin said. He echoed Republicans who argue the generous insurance deters some people from resuming work because they make more at home than they otherwise would at their jobs.
On other fronts, Mnuchin said the White House supports an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses but wants new relief to be "much, much more targeted" than past rounds of funding. Congress has put $670 billion into the loan program, and it had about $130 billion remaining as of Monday.
He also downplayed the need for more relief money for states and municipalities, as lost revenue and higher costs due to the outbreak force some governments to consider trimming essential services. He said the administration does not want to "bail out" states that were "mismanaged" before the virus hit.
Democrats put nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments in a $3 trillion relief bill the House passed in May. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., considers the funds a priority.
McConnell has repeatedly said he wants to see liability protections for doctors and businesses in any new relief legislation.
Mnuchin spoke days after the Trump administration released details about who got approved for many of the PPP loans designed to keep small business employees on payrolls during the coronavirus.