A House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday nearly devolved into a shouting match after Porter grilled the secretary over his desire to return hundreds of billions in unused money from the $2.2 trillion relief bill back into the Treasury’s general fund. The congresswoman argued that, under the law, the funds aren’t set to be returned for more than five years, quizzing Mnuchin on the current date.
“I’m reading aloud now from section 4027 of the CARES Act: ‘On or after January 1, 2026, any funds that are remaining shall be transferred to the general fund.’ In other words, sent back to the Treasury,” Porter said.
Secretary Mnuchin, is it currently the year 2026, yes or no?
Katie Porter: I think it's ridiculous that you're play-acting to be a lawyer.
Steven Mnuchin: I have plenty of lawyers that advise me.
Katie Porter: Are you in fact a lawyer?
Mnuchin: I do not have a legal degree. pic.twitter.com/MVwGdQk8Td
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) December 2, 2020
“Of course it’s not 2026, how ridiculous to ask me that question to waste our time,” the secretary fired back, with Porter immediately cutting in: “I think it’s ridiculous that you’re play-acting to be a lawyer, when you have no legal degree.”
Mnuchin acknowledged that he had no legal training as Porter continued to press, but added “I have plenty of lawyers at the Department of Treasury who advise me,” offering to follow up with committee chair Maxine Waters (D-California) to “explain all the legal provisions” of the massive relief bill.
Waters herself issued a statement later on Wednesday, slamming Mnuchin for “permanently ending essential emergency lending programs” amid the pandemic. “There is simply no justification or justifiable reason to take these tools away,” she said.
Critics of Mnuchin, including Porter, have argued that returning the relief money to the Treasury Department would set up obstacles for the incoming Joe Biden administration, making it more difficult to access and deploy the $455 billion in loanable funds. The secretary, however, maintains that the relief money was meant to be time-limited when Congress passed the CARES Act in March and should expire with the new year.
While the language of the bill does set a 2026 timeframe for when the funds should return to the Treasury, it also imposed limits on how the money could be spent after January 2021, allowing only a handful of uses for the remaining funds, such as covering “administrative expenses.”
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