US officials set for final stimulus talks as deadline looms
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Screenshot/YouTube)

With the clock fast counting down, key US policymakers were set to meet later Tuesday in what could be the final round of talks before time runs out to approve a rescue package ahead of the November 3 election.

Economists say the coronavirus-ravaged US economy has held up well because of the massive injection of about $3 trillion in support for businesses and households, but needs more support to avert another downturn.

The talks between the White House and congressional Democrats have dragged on for months with little progress, and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday there were only 48 hours left to realistically agree on the package that could be approved before the election.

Pelosi was due to speak with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin around 1900 GMT, a source familiar with the matter told AFP, to see if the sides can finally narrow their differences.

Mnuchin is conducting the negotiations while on a trip to the Middle East, where he is traveling to Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The House of Representatives approved a $2.2 trillion package while President Donald Trump's administration proposed a $1.8 trillion rescue measure.

Trump, who trails in national polls behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden, signaled he could go bigger, but Senate Republican have revolted over the size of the spending.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly signaled he would not support a massive package, and said Tuesday the Republican-controlled chamber will vote later in the day on a more narrow, $500 billion measure to support small businesses.

While he has opposed many measures supported by Democrats and not allowed the House bill to come to a vote, he said Tuesday the renewed Paycheck Protection Program "ought to be a no-brainer," and called on Pelosi to "end her Marie Antoinette act."

Seeking clarity

Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke on Monday and "continued to narrow their differences," and, "The Speaker continues to hope that, by the end of the day Tuesday, we will have clarity on whether we will be able to pass a bill before the election," Pelosi aide Drew Hammill tweeted.

Since business shutdowns began in March, tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs, while the economy saw the worst contraction since the Great Depression.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits and provided loans and grants to small businesses, however those provisions expired months ago.

IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath told AFP last week that a US rescue package of around $2 trillion would boost growth in the world's biggest economy by two percentage points next year, over the 3.1 percent GDP rise currently forecast.