Trump talks up bigger COVID-19 stimulus deal as election clock ticks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is willing to raise his offer of $1.8 trillion for a COVID-19 relief package to get a deal with House of Representatives Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a move likely to raise concern among his fellow Republicans in the Senate.

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The White House proposed the $1.8 trillion in stimulus last week in negotiations with Pelosi, who rejected the offer and continues to demand a $2.2 trillion deal. The talks appear unlikely to produce an agreement before the Nov. 3 election.

Trump, who is running for reelection in the vote next month, told Fox Business Network he has already directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to put a bigger stimulus offer on the table, saying additional money would go to help U.S. workers. Pelosi and Mnuchin were expected to speak again on Thursday.

“We like stimulus, we want stimulus and we think we should have stimulus,” Trump said.

The president ruled out accepting Pelosi’s proposal outright “because she’s asking for all sorts of goodies. She wants to bail out badly-run Democrat states and cities. She wants money for things … that just your pride couldn’t let it happen.”

Many economists as well as officials with the Federal Reserve have pushed for another stimulus deal to blunt the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put milllions of Americans out of work.

U.S. stocks have slumped in the past couple of days amid signs that the talks had reached an impasse.

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But a larger coronavirus deal is likely to meet with resistance from members of Trump’s party in the Republican-controlled Senate, many of whom contend that the White House’s current offer is too big. Republicans voiced concern about the size of the White House offer in a weekend call with administration officials.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, has set a vote for next week on a smaller $500 billion package, with money for small businesses, aid to schools, liability protection for businesses, unemployment benefits and assistance to hospitals.

Earlier on Thursay, Mnuchin also said he would not allow differences with Pelosi over a national strategy for COVID-19 testing and tracing to stand in the way of an agreement.

“When I speak to Pelosi today I’m going to tell her that we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way, that we’ll fundamentally agree with their testing language subject to some minor issues. This issue is being overblown,” Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC.

Mnuchin also clarified his remarks from Wednesday that reaching an agreement to blunt the economic effects of the pandemic would be difficult before the election.

“What I said was that a deal would be hard to get done before the election but we’re going to keep trying, so I don’t want to say that it’s not likely. It’s just there are significant issues.”

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