The White House strongly signaled Wednesday that it is willing to increase its offer in talks with Democrats and that Senate Republicans should go along in order to seal a stimulus deal in the next week to 10 days.

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said President Donald Trump is open to the compromise US$1.52 trillion stimulus proposal from a bipartisan group of House lawmakers that was an effort to break a months-long deadlock over bolstering the U.S. economy amid the pandemic.

The long-shot plan from a 50-member group of House Democrats and Republicans has a bigger total spending figure than the administration previously endorsed. It’s also higher than what Senate GOP leaders say would be acceptable to Republicans.

Meadows said on CNBC that the amount is not a “show-stopper.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called it insufficient, while Senator John Thune, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, said a US$1.5 trillion stimulus would cause “a lot of heartburn” for GOP lawmakers.

Trump on Twitter urged Republican lawmakers to accept a higher level of spending.

After initially proposing a US$1 trillion stimulus at the end of July, Senate Republicans attempted to advance a bill providing US$650 billion in economic aid, without the direct payments to individuals the president -- and Democrats -- want. That was blocked by Democrats, who said it didn’t do enough to address the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office declined to comment on Meadows’s remarks or Trump’s tweet. Negotiations on the stimulus have been handled by Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Problem Solvers Caucus plan was developed over six weeks with the knowledge of the White House and leadership from both parties. But the track record of bipartisan groupings of moderates in either the House or Senate to broker major deals has been poor in recent years.

The proposal offered compromises on the two thorniest issues in the stalled talks between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration. On aid to state and local governments, the group is backing about $500 billion, splitting the difference between the $915 billion sought by Pelosi and Schumer and the $150 billion put forward by the White House.

States Aid

Meadows said the $500 billion figure is more than the White House estimates that states have lost in revenue due to the pandemic, but added that the administration could accept a figure in the $250-$300 billion range.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday said Democrats should not agree to less than US$2 trillion. A group of House Democratic chairmen issued a statement criticizing the Problem Solvers proposal as inadequate. Pelosi earlier on MSNBC Wednesday reinforced her demand for US$2.2 trillion.

“We did come down,” she said of her willingness to compromise. “We can only go so far.”

The Problem Solvers proposal would allow the total to increase to about US$2 trillion if the virus pandemic continues, or reduce the amount to $1.3 trillion if it subsides quicker than expected. The White House had previously been willing to back about US$1.1 trillion.

Republican Divisions

Trump’s new push for a deal highlights continuing divisions among Republicans, some of whom are reluctant to spend more money on stimulus with the national deficit reaching US$3.3 trillion this year.

Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt said a number higher than US$1 trillion can be the basis for an agreement, if it can be done quickly.

“I think there is a deal to be had here,” he told reporters at the Capitol. “My concern is that the window probably closes around the end of this month. And we need to get busy finding out what we can all agree on.”

John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican senator, said, “It’s going to be difficult in the Senate. It’s a higher number.”

“I need to see what it would be for and how it would be spent,” Kennedy said. “And if a bill is chock full of spending porn as Speaker Pelosi’s bill is, I’m not going to vote for it.”

--With assistance from Laura Litvan.