US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was close to reaching a deal with Congress to provide another $300bn in loans for small businesses that have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think we’re very close to a deal today,” Mr Mnuchin told CNN on Sunday. “I’m hopeful that we can reach an agreement that the Senate can pass this tomorrow and that the House can take it up on Tuesday.”
In a sign that the administration and Democrats were close to a deal after days of bitter debate over what should be in the package, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, told ABC News that both sides had reached “common ground” and were “very close to an agreement”.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate, said both sides had “made very good progress” and were close to striking a deal. “We’ve made very good progress, and I’m very hopeful we could come to an agreement tonight, or early tomorrow morning,” he told CNN.
Mr Mnuchin added that Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, and Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, both agreed with the details of the proposal. Jim Manley, a former top Senate Democratic leadership aide, said support from Mr McConnell would be critical.
“Until Senate Republicans are on board, however, nothing is going to get done. They don’t seem to be in a mood to just accept whatever Pelosi and Mnuchin negotiate among themselves,” said Mr Manley.
Mr McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the remarks by Mr Mnuchin.
The White House has been pressing lawmakers to replenish the so-called Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] after the first tranche of $349bn that Congress funded in the $2.2tn coronavirus stimulus package ran out on Thursday. The programme is designed in a way that helps businesses continue to pay employees over the next two months.
Mr Trump has attacked Democrats for not moving faster. Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer had held out as they pressed the White House and Republicans to include money for hospitals and Covid-19 testing.
Defending the approach taken by the Democrats, Mr Schumer said the White House had come around on their demands to have the legislation help hospitals, which have been hit hard as patients are urged to avoid “elective” surgery, which is critical for revenues.
“Many of the things we have asked for on the banking side, on the testing side, on the hospital side, they’re going along with, so we feel pretty good,” Mr Schumer said.
Mr Mnuchin said the proposed deal included $300bn for PPP, $50bn for the Small Business Association, $75bn for hospitals and $25bn for coronavirus testing.
Congress has come under pressure to act more quickly as the scale of the economic fallout from Covid-19 has become increasingly apparent.
The US Department of Labor last week said the number of Americans who had filed jobless claims over the previous four weeks was 22m people. Mr Mnuchin said he hoped the unemployment rate would not rise to the 20 per cent that he had warned Congress last month was possible.
“If we’re successful, we get more money out to the PPP, we get more people hired back to work, we make progress on testing, we open up the economy, hopefully we won’t be there,” Mr Mnuchin said.
Asked how long it would take the US economy to return to its pre-coronavirus strength, Mr Mnuchin said: “I think it will be months, I definitely don’t think it will be years.”
Mr Mnuchin said that people were “rightfully . . . cautious” in taking social distancing and lockdown measures, but that “as we get comfortable reopening the economy, I think we’ll see a big rebound.”
Mr Mnuchin dismissed suggestions PPP might ultimately need more than $1tn, which would amount to roughly another $250bn beyond the $300bn package being negotiated with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi