WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is willing to consider another $1.5 trillion in relief for the U.S. economy and health care system, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday, including more aid to state and local governments than top GOP officials have been comfortable with to date.

Meadows spoke with President Donald Trump before a CNBC appearance Wednesday, where he said Trump was “encouraged” by the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus proposal unveiled the previous day.

Meadows said the $1.5 trillion price tag was higher than Republicans would like, but “not a showstopper at this point,” while Trump tweeted that Republicans should “go for the much higher numbers” under discussion.

Meadows added that he was “probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days.” He said, however, a deal would likely need to come together in the next “week to 10 days” in order for a further aid package to have an impact this year.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t been willing to go any lower than $2.2 trillion, and several House committee leaders panned the Problem Solvers plan as inadequate.

On the biggest sticking point between the parties, the Problem Solvers offered up to $500 billion in direct aid to cash-strapped state and local governments. Republicans have offered $150 billion; Democrats are at $915 billion.

Meadows said the midway point proposed by the bipartisan House group was “more than what we’re seeing in terms of lost revenue,” which he said was in the $250 billion to $300 billion range. It wasn’t clear whether Meadows was endorsing that figure, however, because he also reiterated a GOP talking point that some $100 billion of the original $150 billion from the March relief law hasn’t yet been spent.

State budget officers have refuted the Treasury Department’s figures, arguing the estimates are outdated and don’t account for funds that have been committed.

The Problem Solvers proposal contains a trigger mechanism that would cut the amount of direct state and local aid by $130 billion if certain metrics on hospitalizations and vaccine development are met. Such metrics could result in faster reopenings, and therefore less state and local health care spending and more tax revenue.

“If we’re talking about trying to replace some of the lost revenues, hopefully that number is closer to the” $250 billion to $300 billion range, Meadows said, while adding that the Problem Solvers plan “gives us something to talk about, and I’m encouraged.”

Notably, in a departure from the prior negotiations that have been mainly between Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on one side and Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on the other, Meadows told CNBC it would be up to Congress to find the “sweet spot” on state and local aid.

GOP senators have been adamant about lower funding for states and localities. Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters Wednesday that $500 billion “would probably be a nonstarter over here,” and that the higher overall $1.5 trillion figure would “create a lot of heartburn.”

Senate Republicans introduced a $1.1 trillion package in late July that went nowhere, in part because of some 20 potential GOP defections. Last week they united around a “skinny” plan with a net cost of just $300 billion that Democrats called “emaciated.”

Trump nonetheless tweeted his encouragement Wednesday, urging Republicans to “go for the much higher numbers” while accusing Democrats of being “heartless” for refusing to cut a deal that includes another round of direct payments to U.S. households.

Both House Democrats and Senate Republicans offered more direct tax rebates and checks, worth up to $1,200 per person, in recent proposals. But it was Senate Republicans that dropped those payments from their skinny plan.

Some Republicans acknowledge that if a deal is going to come together before the elections, it’s likely to involve spending more than they prefer.

“My concern is that the window probably closed at the end of this month and we need to get busy finding out what we can all agree on,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a senior appropriator. “And I think the number is going to be higher than our trillion dollars.”

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.


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