Trump, Democrats at odds over coronavirus economic proposals

Trump looks for support on economic stimulus proposal that includes payroll tax cuts - a plan some Democrats dismiss.

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    United States President Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a closed Senate Republican policy lunch meeting to discuss the response to the coronavirus outbreak with senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    United States President Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a closed Senate Republican policy lunch meeting to discuss the response to the coronavirus outbreak with senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    Washington, DC - United States President Donald Trump and Congress are moving towards new legislation to support the US economy with competing priorities.

    Democrats in the US House of Representatives want to focus any legislation on helping families that may be hurt by school and workplace closures.

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    Trump and Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, have promoted the idea of a temporary elimination of payroll taxes as a way to boost the economy - a plan many Democrats have dismissed.

    Fears over the continuing spread of the virus have rocked global markets, with Wall Street experiencing one of its worst days since the 2008 financial crisis. Trump's announcement of a possible stimulus package helped recover some of Monday's losses early on Tuesday.

    Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met at the White House with private US health insurance executives who announced commitments to waive copayments and provide coverage for coronavirus tests and related doctor visits.

    Trump said his administration was working closely with the cruise line industry and airlines to address the effects of sharp declines in travel.

    Trump also met Senate Republicans on Tuesday to discuss his proposals, but he continued to downplay the virus, despite a growing number of cases in the country. 

    "It will go away," Trump said after the meeting. "Just stay calm. It will go away," he said. 

    There are now more than 900 people in the US infected with the disease, according to the New York Times. More than 29 people infected by the virus have died in the US. 

    Pence confirmed later on Tuesday that the Trump administration's proposals include payroll tax relief and paid family leave. The exact details have not been publicly released.

    US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed the administration's proposals with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    "We're going to work together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how we can get things done quickly that are going to help the Americans that are most impacted by this and small- and medium-sized businesses that are impacted," Mnuchin told reporters. 

    'Not just a tax-cut matter'

    Trump faces political resistance in Congress, where Democrats generally oppose the idea of tax cuts and want a plan narrowly focused on the effect of the virus.

    Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee emerged from a closed-door meeting at the US Capitol early on Tuesday saying they want to go in a different direction from Trump.

    "What we are arguing is that we need a more integrated approach on this, treating it as a public-health matter, not just a tax-cut matter," said committee chairman Richard Neal.

    "I have yet to hear anything from the administration other than the suggestion of a payroll tax cut. The opening gambit here just demands a much more complicated series of solutions," Neal told reporters.

    In the near term, a payroll tax holiday would help corporate cash flows and put dollars in the pockets of employees who receive regular paycheques.

    Pelosi
    US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak at a news conference marking the one-year anniversary of the House passing legislation to expand voting rights and improve election integrity [Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP] 

    "We do not simply accept the fact that a payroll tax holiday gets to the people who you need to get it to," said Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

    "It disproportionately affects people who make more money. It disproportionately works against people who lose their job," Kildee said.

    Democrats said they are looking at legislation, potentially in stages over several weeks, that would both address the coronavirus crisis in the US and provide support to the economy.

    Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrats in Congress, put out a marker of their priorities earlier this week.

    "For the families, we want to be sure from the standpoint of being tested, if need be, that there be no cost to the families," Pelosi said at a news conference on Monday night.

    "For the families, if they are affected by school closings and parents have to stay home - who have to have medical leave because they are affected - that they will have coronavirus-related paid sick and family leave," Pelosi said.

    Schumer added later on Tuesday that "Trump and his administration should be putting people before corporations, and they should be focused on taking appropriate steps to keep the American people and their economic security safe."

    Despite the disagreements, sentiment in Congress is one of urgency.

    "We've got to work with the president. We can't let the argument get in the way of getting something in place," said Kildee.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News