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October 14, 2020 2:15 PM, EDT

Stimulus Chances Fading as Mnuchin Cites Political Reality

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the chances of a stimulus bill before the election were dimming.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Oct. 14 said the chances of a stimulus bill before the election were dimming. (Drew Angerer/Bloomberg News)

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The chances for a preelection stimulus for the U.S. economy from Congress are all but over, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Oct. 14 pointing to political dynamics undermining the monthslong negotiations.

“At this point getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult, just given where we are in the level of details,” Mnuchin said at a conference.

Mnuchin was asked whether Democrats are holding back out of optimism they’ll win a Senate majority on Nov. 3 and be able to speed through their own bill without having given President Donald Trump something to tout now in his campaign. “That definitely is part of the reality,” the Treasury chief said.

He made the remarks after another in a long series of calls with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that have failed to seal a deal. While Mnuchin said he hoped for bipartisan support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s latest idea — a vote on a narrow bill the week of Oct. 19 to help small businesses — Democratic leaders have no appetite for piecemeal measures now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats have no appetite for piecemeal measures.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats have no appetite for piecemeal measures. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

The inability to bring months of negotiations to conclusion has sparked increasing tensions, with each camp seeing internal strains rise as it becomes clear there won’t be a spending bill to take to the public. Investors are increasingly taking note; the S&P 500 Index headed for a second day of declines on Oct. 14.

After McConnell publicized his plan Oct. 13, Trump tweeted that Congress should “go big or go home.”

Democrats are seeing their own strains. Pelosi became riled during a CNN interview Oct. 13 when asked about a handful of Democrats who are urging her to look again at the Trump administration’s $1.8 trillion stimulus offer.

RELATED: Trump, Republicans Divided on Stimulus as Pelosi Demands Revamp

“They have no idea of the particulars. They have no idea of what the language is here,” Pelosi said of Democrats calling for a deal now. “They’re not negotiating this situation.”

She said she wasn’t letting a perfect stand in the way of getting a good deal because, “We’re not even close to the good” and called anchor Wolf Blitzer an “apologist” for the Republican position.

Mnuchin’s Oct. 14 comments at a Milken Institute event showed he’s now joined with McConnell’s assessment; the Senate Republican leader said last week that “the proximity to the elections and the differences of opinion about what is needed are pretty vast.”

Pelosi warned her House colleagues on a call Oct. 13 that Democratic priorities would be cut in any deal based on the current White House offer. In the wake of Trump’s “go big” tweet, she told colleagues the Democratic side has more leverage than ever, three participants said.

Pelosi has stuck with a $2.2 trillion bill, and the two sides remain far apart on several issues of policy as well, including how to deploy health care aid and apportion tax credits and assistance to state and local governments.

Another sticking point: the White House “lacks an understanding of the need for a national strategic testing plan” for the coronavirus, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted Oct. 14 after the speaker and Mnuchin spoke for an hour by phone. “Staff will continue to exchange paper and the two principals will speak again tomorrow,” Hammill said.

Hammill said the latest call was “productive,” and Mnuchin said Oct. 14 that progress is being made. But the Treasury chief also said, “there’s a lot of details other than just the top line number that we’re exchanging paper,” and on some issues “we continue to be far apart.”

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany added to signs that a deal isn’t in the cards with an afternoon tweet saying, “Senate Democrats who now say we should focus on relief for the American people should bring their empty calls directly to Nancy Pelosi.”

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