Top House Democrat Says Mnuchin Trying to 'Sabotage' Biden's COVID Response

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has accused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of trying to "sabotage" the incoming Biden administration's response to COVID-19.

Neal, a Democrat representing Massachusetts' 2nd district, made the charge in a statement on Tuesday following reports that Mnuchin will put $455 billion in unspent CARES Act money potentially beyond the next Treasury secretary's reach.

The money will be sent to the Treasury's General Fund which could mean Mnuchin's successor may need congressional approval to access it. Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is expected to fill that role.

"The President and his team have politicized the pandemic from the start, which has resulted in unfathomable sickness, death, and economic hardship," Neal said in a statement accusing Mnuchin of sabotage.

"Now, on their way out the door, they're continuing to put petty politics ahead of Americans' safety. Despite the stock market's rebound due to the news that President-elect Biden can formally begin his transition process, the COVID-19 economic crisis is not over.

"Millions of families are struggling, wondering how they'll make ends meet in the coming weeks. The next administration needs access to all available resources to continue fighting the virus and getting Americans back to work," he said.

"The Trump Administration still doesn't understand that the stock market is not the same thing as the economy," Neal went on. "Their inability to grasp the American people's hardship has real consequences.

"Secretary Mnuchin's clawing back of this COVID response funding will only worsen the pain and suffering that has stemmed from the President's inept mismanagement of the crisis."

The unspent $455 billion is part of funds that were mainly used for Federal Reserve emergency lending facilities due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bharat Ramamurti, a Democrat who serves as a member of the COVID-19 Congressional Oversight Committee, said of Mnuchin's move "the good news is that it's illegal and can be reversed next year," according to Bloomberg.

The Treasury has rejected this interpretation, saying it is legal under the CARES Act.

Mnuchin has caused controversy with recent decisions on the unused funding, with the Federal Reserve criticizing the move to return the money, saying they "would prefer that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy."

Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury
Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary, Department of the Treasury during the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing examining the quarterly CARES Act report to Congress n September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Mnuchin has been accused of trying to "sabotage" his successor. Toni L. Sandys-Pool/Getty Images