By David Morgan and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House has started informal talks with Republicans and Democrats in Congress about next steps on coronavirus relief legislation, officials said on Sunday, but they stressed any new federal money would come with conditions.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox New Sunday he was having discussions with lawmakers from both parties to understand their concerns about state budgets. But he said the White House is in no hurry to pass another fiscal relief bill.
“Let’s take the next few weeks,” Mnuchin said.
Since early March, Congress has passed bills allocating $3 trillion to combat the coronavirus pandemic, including taxpayer money for individuals and companies to blunt an economic impact that includes an unemployment rate to 14.7% in April.
“We just want to make sure that before we jump back in and spend another few trillion of taxpayers’ money that we do it carefully,” Mnuchin said. “We’ve been very clear that we’re not going to do things just to bail out states that were poorly managed.”
President Donald Trump has previously threatened to withhold more coronavirus relief funds from states that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, and advisers said last week that the White House would not consider new stimulus legislation in May.
Democrats, who control the House, are pushing for a vote as soon as this week on another massive relief bill that would include more money for state and local governments, coronavirus testing and the U.S. Postal Service.
“It’s not that we’re not talking. We are. It’s just informal at this stage,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday, referring to discussions between the White House and Congress.
“We’re collecting ideas for next steps, which will undoubtedly be data-driven,” he said.
Kudlow said he took part in a Friday conference call with House lawmakers from both parties, and that he planned to do the same on Monday with members of the Senate.
“If we go to a Phase 4 deal, I think that President Trump has signaled that, while he doesn’t want to bail out the states, he’s willing to help cover some of the unexpected COVID expenses that might have come their way,” White House senior economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The White House is “absolutely” pushing for a payroll tax cut, Mnuchin said. Trump has been calling for a cut to the tax, which is paid by employers and workers and funds Social Security and Medicare. The idea has little support in Congress, however.
White House predictions on the economy, and how quickly a coronavirus vaccine could be rolled out were questioned on Sunday by both Democrats and Republicans.
The United States will need more tests before schools can reopen later in the year, said Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he appeared to question the White House’s aim of having 100 million vaccines by the autumn and 300 million by the end of the year, calling it “an amazingly ambitious goal” and adding, “I have no idea if we can reach that.” There is currently no coronavirus vaccine.
The president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neal Kashkari, told ABC’s “This Week” that he would love to see a robust recovery.
“But that would require a breakthrough in vaccines, a breakthrough in widespread testing, a breakthrough in therapies, to give all of us confidence that it’s safe to go back,” he said. “I don’t know when we’re going to have that confidence.”
Ultimately, Kashkari said, “the American people are going to decide how long the shutdown is.”
(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Heavey and Heather Timmons; Writing by Heather Timmons; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)