WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed on Friday to reach agreement on a COVID-19 stimulus package, while the top Senate Republican voiced doubt that Congress would act before the Nov. 3 election.
Mnuchin floated a new $1.8 trillion proposal in a 30-minute Friday afternoon phone conversation, according to the White House. But Pelosi aide Drew Hamill said the offer lacked a broad plan to contain the pandemic. Talks will continue, he said.
“We are still awaiting language from the administration as negotiations on the overall funding amount continue,” Hamill said on Twitter.
The new White House package was higher than an earlier $1.6 trillion Mnuchin offer and closer to the $2.2 trillion that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed last week.
White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said the administration wanted to keep spending below $2 trillion but was eager to enact a fresh round of direct payments to American individuals as well as aid to small businesses and airlines.
“We want to think that the Speaker is operating in good faith and we can have some progress in the near future,” Farah said.
It was the third straight day of talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin this week.
Optimism over a possible agreement lifted U.S. stock prices and set the stage for the second straight weekly market gain on Wall Street.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said he doubted lawmakers would pass a package before the election, though he has not directly participated in the talks.
“The proximity to the election and the differences of opinion over what is needed at this particular juncture are pretty vast,” McConnell told a news conference in his home state of Kentucky.
Senate Republicans have warned that they might not support a package near the $2 trillion mark.
Republican President Donald Trump, who initially withdrew from the negotiations this week only to regain interest in forging a bipartisan accord, said he was open to a larger deal.
“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering,” he said in an interview with conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
In an MSNBC interview, Pelosi emphasized the need for aid for state and local governments to help pay salaries for police, healthcare workers and other first responders.
That has proven to be a major dividing line throughout months of negotiations. The pandemic has infected at least 7.6 million people in the United States and killed more than 212,000.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Alexandra Alper, Mana Rabiee, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)