(Headline USA) President Donald Trump acknowledged Monday a “big flare up” of COVID-19 cases, even as House Democrats posed fresh challenges for a new federal aid package with the U.S. crisis worsening and emergency relief about to expire.
Trump convened GOP leaders at the White House as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepared to roll out his $1 trillion package in a matter of days.
But the administration criticized the legislation’s money for more virus testing and insisted on a payroll tax cut that could complicate quick passage. The timeline appeared to quickly shift.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Trump said as the meeting got underway.
But the president added, “Unfortunately, this is something that’s very tough.”
Lawmakers returned to a Capitol still off-limits to tourists, another sign of the nation’s difficulty containing the coronavirus.
As the pandemic rises again, businesses are shutting down anew, and questions loom over the possibility of extended school shutdowns.
Meanwhile, federal aid will expire in days, leaving Congress little choice but to engineer another costly rescue.
Mnuchin vowed passage by month’s end, as earlier benefits expire, and said he expected a fresh $1 trillion jolt of business tax breaks and other aid would have a “big impact” on the struggling economy.
Back at the Capitol, McConnell downplayed his proposal as simply a “starting point” for eventual discussions.
Not only does he face pressure from the White House, but splits within his ranks from both anti-Trump centrists and fiscal conservatives have chiseled away at his majority power, leaving him to rely on Democrats for votes.
“The question before the Senate this week is, ‘Where are we now?’” the Kentucky Republican said as he opened the chamber.
The package from McConnell, being crafted behind closed doors, is expected to include $75 billion to help schools reopen. It is also expected to provide a new boost in unemployment benefits, a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans below a certain income level, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits.
But the administration was panning the proposal’s $25 billion in new funds for virus testing and tracing, said two Republicans familiar with the discussions. Trump was also reviving his push for a payroll tax break, said another Republican. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.
Trump insisted again Sunday that the virus would eventually evolve into something less deadly and contagious, just as other pandemics have faded away in the past.
On a conference call with the nation’s governors Monday, Pence called the rising numbers in Sunbelt states “serious.”
And a somber McConnell said that “it’s not going to magically disappear,” during a visit to to thank front-line workers at a hospital in his home state of Kentucky last week.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, suggested that Democrats might undertake a similar strategy as the prior relief bill, attempting to force Republicans to the negotiating table in order to obtain concessions for their own agenda.
The prior effort was met with some criticism after some leftist party members acknowledged holding the relief hostage and delaying it for many in order to negotiate terms favorable to unions and radical environmental interests.
This time, the House has already approved House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sweeping $3 trillion effort, giving Democrats additional momentum heading into negotiations.
Trump raised alarms on Capitol Hill when he suggested last month at a rally in Oklahoma that he wanted to slow virus testing.
Some of Trump’s GOP allies want new money to help test and track the virus to contain its spread. And one of the Republicans familiar with the process said about half of the $25 billion previously approved remains unspent. Senate Democrats are investigating why the administration has left so much on the table.
The payroll tax break Trump wants also is dividing his party because that tax is used to finance Social Security and Medicare. Cutting it only adds to the nation’s rising debt load at a time when conservatives are wary of any new spending. McConnell is straining to keep the bill’s total price tag at $1 trillion.
During Monday’s White House meeting, Trump put economist Art Laffer on speaker phone to discuss a health care provision backed by Newt Gingrich and key conservatives in Congress, according to a person familiar with the exchange and granted anonymity to discuss it. It would require hospitals and providers to disclose some prices to patients before receiving medical care, putting Trump’s executive actions into law.
The proposed virus aid package would be the fifth, following the $2.2 trillion bill passed in March, the largest U.S. intervention of its kind.
While many Republicans hoped the virus would ease and economy rebound, it’s become clear more aid is needed as the first round of relief runs out.
The federal $600-a-week boost to regular unemployment benefits is to expire at the end of the month. So, too, the federal ban on evictions from millions of rental units.
With 17 straight weeks of unemployment claims topping 1 million — typically about 200,000 — many households are facing a cash difficulties and losing employer-backed health insurance.
Despite flickers of an economic upswing as states eased stay-at-home orders in May and June, the jobless rate remained in double digits, higher than it ever was in the last decade’s Great Recession.
Pelosi’s bill, approved in May, includes $75 billion for testing and tracing, funnels $100 billion to schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs.
Trump has opposed the latter for state who exercised fiscal irresponsibility before and during the crisis, including those that passed their own payouts for illegal immigrants, which they now expect the federal government to subsidize due to their debt crises.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press