The White House traded barbs with Democratic leaders on Monday over who is to blame for the failure to agree on a new pandemic relief package, even as coronavirus cases soared and workers continue to struggle to pay the rent.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said reaching a deal is possible if Democrats in Congress are willing to give ground on some of their demands.
But Senator Chuck Schumer, the lead Democrat in the upper house of Congress, slammed the administration as being unwilling to compromise, and called President Donald Trump's efforts to skirt legislation with presidential action "laughable."
Trump signed four executive orders over the weekend as a stopgap measure after the White House and Democratic leadership failed to reach a deal for a new round of emergency aid to workers and businesses. The stalemate comes as the COVID-19 case count in the US has soared past five million, unemployment remains high and extra unemployment benefits have expired.
Schumer and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and met several times last week with Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to try to bridge the gap between the Democrats $3 trillion proposal and the Republicans' $1 trillion plan.
However, Mnuchin called the Democratic offer to come down to $2 trillion, including aid to state and local governments, "absurd."
He said Monday on CNBC that "there's a deal to do if the Democrats are reasonable and want to compromise."
"But what we're not going to deal with, where there's really bad policy ideas. We're not going to just split the difference," Mnuchin said.
Schumer hit back saying Trump's measures were "unworkable, weak, and far too narrow," Schumer said on MSNBC.
"We're not going to settle for some skimpy thing that doesn't work," he said.
Trump has repeatedly rejected any plan that offers aid to state and local governments, saying Monday on Twitter that Pelosi and Schumer "only wanted BAILOUT MONEY for Democrat run states and cities that are failing badly."
While economists note that pandemic funding pressures mean many cash-strapped state and local governments may be forced to lay off teachers, police and firefighters, Mnuchin said they have "plenty of money" left from the last aid package to cover their budget deficits.
- Attacking the US Postal Service -
Trump, who faces a tough reelection bid in November, ordered collection of payroll taxes for the final three months of the year to be deferred for anyone earning less than $100,000 a year. But that only applies to people who are employed, and leaves taxpayers facing a hefty bill next year when the payments are due.
Another order provides $400 in supplemental weekly unemployment benefits, $100 of which is to be paid by already strained states, which replaces the $600 weekly federal payments that expired at the end of July.
Even the US Chamber of Commerce said presidential orders are "no substitute for Congressional action."
Schumer also said Democrats will insist the new package include $10 billion in immediate funding for the US Postal Service, which he said Trump wants to "destroy."
Trump installed Republican fundraiser Louis DeJoy, who previously ran a freight shipping firm, as postmaster general in early May, and DeJoy has clamped down on overtime pay and hiring of mail carriers, which critics say have contributed to slowing deliveries at a time when voting by mail will be critical.
"The president has wanted to destroy the Post Office," Schumer said. "I told them, we're not giving in on this. This is so vital."