Trump Says He Now Wants Bigger Stimulus Than Democrats Offering

(Bloomberg) - President Donald Trump said he wanted an even bigger incentive than what the Democrats have offered so far, another turn in his position that his own negotiators seemed to undercut.
"I would honestly want a bigger stimulus package than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering," Trump said on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, saying he was going in the "exactly opposite" direction to his previous positions.
Shortly thereafter, White House communications director Alyssa Farah told reporters that the government wanted a package under $ 2 trillion, which created further confusion.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held talks Friday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a $ 1.8 trillion White House offer for economic stimulus, according to those familiar with the matter. The two spoke for about 30 minutes, and Mnuchin's proposal "sought to address some of the Democrats' concerns," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter.
Pelosi has proposed a $ 2.2 trillion plan after the House passed a $ 3.4 trillion package in May. However, the differences between the two sides concern more than just money. They also differ in how it should be spent.
'Strategic Plan'
The speaker on Friday urged the administration to include the language in the bill to develop a "strategic plan" to combat the virus. The White House has resisted, claiming it already has such a plan.
Another hurdle is that many Republicans in Congress have said they would oppose any plan approaching $ 2 trillion, but Trump said on Friday that he was not concerned about it.
"I'm telling you something I won't tell anyone because it might help or hurt the negotiations," Trump told Limbaugh. "I would like to see a bigger package."
It's a U-turn from Trump, who on Tuesday said he would pull out of pandemic relief talks. It comes with the election in three weeks' time and polls show he is lagging behind Democrat Joe Biden.
Political need
His actions show that politically he needs a deal, according to a Senate GOP adviser. The aide said if Trump can get a deal on less than $ 2 trillion, it will be difficult for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell not to put them to the vote. The president’s statement could also intensify Pelosi's call for greater incentive.
Trump himself "could" hold talks with lawmakers today, Farah said, without specifying who he might be speaking to.
Shares had soared to session highs on Friday following the first reports from the White House increasing coronavirus relief offerings, but failed to gain further steam from Trump's later turn. The S&P 500 index rose 0.9% from 3:21 p.m.
There is still skepticism about whether a deal can be cut and turned into law before election day.
Time is pressing
McConnell said earlier Friday that there is likely not enough time before the election to bridge the "big" differences in a new virus relief package.
"I think we need another bailout, but the proximity to the elections and the disagreement over what is needed are pretty big," McConnell said at an event in his home state of Kentucky.
McConnell later told reporters that "even if an agreement" is reached on the stimulus, his first priority is to ensure the Senate's confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court nomination. The hearings for Amy Coney Barrett are due to begin on Monday with a final vote in the Senate as early as the week of October 26th.
If Pelosi and Mnuchin reach an agreement, it would likely take Congress two weeks or more to draft legislation and approve it in the House and Senate. The Senate is on break until October 19 and the Parliament until mid-November. However, the legislature has been informed that it can be called back with a period of 24 hours to vote on a business cycle agreement.
If there is a vote, the Republican legislature could be a major obstacle.
McConnell has said that there are members of his GOP majority in the Senate who believe the government has already given enough stimulus. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also said his caucus members are skeptical of a large package. "We'd have to see what's in there, but I think it's difficult," he said last month.
In his remarks on Friday, McConnell specifically highlighted the “tightly targeted” GOP package of roughly half a trillion dollars that the Democrats blocked last month as insufficient.
For republican lawmakers at risk, a deal seems increasingly important as the economy already shows signs of a slowing recovery. Employment growth in September was the weakest since the recovery began in May, a report showed on Friday.
Senator Joni Ernst, who ran behind her Democratic challenger in Iowa, tweeted that she had spoken to Trump and told him, "Iowans need additional COVID-19 help."
Pelosi sent a letter to House Democrats Friday morning criticizing Trump for not taking the pandemic seriously enough.
“The administration does not share this priority of destroying the virus. The president lacks the capacity, leadership, or plans to test, track, and isolate, ”Pelosi wrote. "Instead, Trump's delay, denial, distortion of reality and contempt for science has taken a deadly and preventable human toll."
The two sides disagree on how much money is available to provide from state and local governments, what language limits Trump's ability to redirect antivirus health care spending, and the amount and duration of additional unemployment benefits. Dozens of smaller issues such as funding for election security and the postal service also remain.
The negotiations are proceeding against a frenzied backdrop. The president is recovering from Covid-19 and the final leg of the election campaign is underway. Pelosi and Trump publicly questioned each other's ability to do their jobs on Thursday.
Read more: Pelosi and Trump question each other in their intellectual abilities
(Updates to Pelosi discussion with Mnuchin in third paragraph)
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