WASHINGTON — The economy is “very strong,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress Tuesday, though he admitted his assessment was “relative,” and more economic relief is still needed.
He also told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that the administration is rolling out an executive order to help 40 million renters facing dire circumstances. “The president and I want to move forward.
Pressed on his contention that the economy is strong and administration statements that it is great, Mnuchin allowed there are problems.
“Great is a relative term. Relative to shutting off the entire economy and relative to people thinking we’d have 40 million unemployed, we are doing great,” Mnuchin said. “We have more work to do.”
That work includes advancing another round of relief, after the $3 trillion passed in March.
The Democratic-led House passed some $3.4 trillion more in May in the Heroes Act, but the White House and Republican-led Senate have balked at that number.
Democrats have since said they would agree to cut $1.2 trillion over their proposal. Senate Republicans and the White House have remained stuck at $1 trillion.
A major sticking point was some $1 trillion in aid Democrats want for state and local governments.
Mnuchin told lawmakers Tuesday the White House supports some state and local aid, and that Congress should move forward on the parts they do agree on.
“I don’t think the right outcome is zero. Nobody thinks the right outcome is zero, Mnuchin said.
He was expected to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later Tuesday.
Republicans on the committee stood by their insistence on going slower on aid, and blamed Democrats for the steepness of the economic decline.
“Is it fair to say that if Democrat governors would let people go back to work in their states, we’d probably have less unemployment?” Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan asked Mnuchin.
“There’s no question that the reason we have unemployment is that certain states are not opening up,” Mnuchin answered.
“Is it fair to say that if Democrat governors would let people go back to work in their states, we’d probably have less unemployment?”
Mnuchin: “I believe there’s no question that the reason we have unemployment is that certain states are not opening up.”
Democrats are also seeking major funding boosts for combatting COVID-19 so people are more willing to go back to work, including spending more on testing and contact tracing.
Jordan suggested such efforts should take a back seat. “We should be focused on one thing and one thing only, and that is letting people go back to work, getting this amazing economy we had just a few months ago, getting it back on track,” he said.
Jordan added that the one program Congress should be focused on is boosting the Paycheck Protection Program, which has already been funded to the tune of $659 billion to grant small businesses forgivable loans to keep people on the job.
Democrats support the program, but rolled out a report that warned Mnuchin’s Treasury Department is doing a poor job controlling fraud and abuse.
According to the report, 10,856 loans went to repeat borrowers, which is barred in the program, and $3 billion went to companies that had red flags in their applications that could reveal fraud.
Republicans released their own report, saying Mnuchin and the Small Business Administration had done an “outstanding” job, considering the extreme pressures involved.
Mnuchin did not provide immediate details on the White House’s rent moratorium program, but he insisted it would provide meaningful relief to any renter struggling because of the pandemic.
Democrats had proposed $100 billion for rental assistance. Mnuchin said that number was too high.
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