WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) — President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is willing to raise his offer of $1.8 trillion for a COVID-19 relief deal with Democrats in the U.S. Congress, but the idea was shot down by his fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The White House proposed the $1.8 trillion in stimulus last week in negotiations with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, rejected the offer and has stuck to her demand for a $2.2 trillion deal. The talks appear unlikely to produce an agreement before the Nov. 3 election.
Trump, who is running against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, told Fox Business Network he has directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to put forward a bigger stimulus offer, with additional money 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."
McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, noted that a higher amount was under discussion. But he said nearly all Senate Republicans favor a much smaller $500 billion aid bill in response to the pandemic that has killed nearly 217,000 Americans and damaged the economy.
"My members think what we laid out – a half a trillion dollars, highly targeted – is the best way to go. So that's what I'm going to put on the floor," McConnell said during an appearance in Henderson, Kentucky.
The Senate bill, which is expected to come to a vote next week, has money for small businesses, aid to schools, liability protection for businesses, unemployment benefits and assistance to hospitals. Democrats have already rejected a similar measure.
Many economists as well as Federal Reserve officials have pushed for another stimulus to blunt the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put millions of Americans out of work.
U.S. stocks have slumped in the past couple of days on signs the talks had reached an impasse.
Many Republicans, especially in the Senate, already view the White House's current $1.8 trillion offer as too big. Republicans voiced those concerns in a weekend call with administration officials.
At a news conference Thursday, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy sidestepped questions about whether he would support a $1.8 trillion package, or go even bigger. McCarthy said $1.8 trillion was "a very big deal," but added: "It doesn't matter what our answer would be, because the Speaker has denied anything from moving."
He said he does not expect agreement on a fresh coronavirus relief package before Election Day as long as Pelosi is involved in negotiations.
Mnuchin 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.
"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 a day earlier that reaching an agreement 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."
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Andrea Shalala, Alexandra Alper, Tim Ahmann and Susan Cornwell; Writing by David Morgan Editing by Paul Simao and David Gregorio)