President Donald Trump’s proposed payroll tax break met with bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill as pressure mounts on the administration and Congress to work more vigorously to contain the coronavirus outbreak and respond to the financial fallout.
Flanked by his economic team, Trump on Tuesday pitched his economic stimulus ideas privately to wary Senate Republicans on another grueling day in the struggle against expanding infections. Fluctuating stock markets rebounded but communities discovered new cases and the two top Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, canceled Tuesday primary night rallies in Ohio.
The president’s GOP allies have been cool to additional spending at this stage, especially for cutting taxes that would have to be reimposed later — presumably after the November election. Democrats prefer their own package of low- or no-cost virus testing, unemployment insurance and sick pay for workers struggling to keep paychecks coming as the outbreak disrupts workplaces.
“We’re taking this unbelievably seriously,” Trump said after his meeting at the Capitol. “It will go away, just stay calm.”
Asked why he has not yet been tested for the virus, after having been in close contact with several advisers and members of Congress who are now self-quarantined after exposure, Trump said: “I don’t think it’s a big deal” and “I feel very good.”
White House officials have been blindsided by the president’s sudden moves. As Trump headed to Capitol Hill, two administration officials said the proposals he was putting in play had not been completed. They were unauthorized to discuss the planning and requested anonymity.
Trump’s team offered few specifics at the closed door GOP lunch on the size of the payroll tax break or its duration, senators said. Trump has long promised to bring about an election year “tax cuts 2.0,” and seemed to be seizing on the virus fears as a way to bring about a victory on that front before November. Behind closed doors he discussed the coming elections in swing states like Arizona and Montana where GOP senators face tough races.
In addition to payroll tax relief, Trump has said he wants help for hourly-wage workers to ensure they’re “not going to miss a paycheck” and “don’t get penalized for something that’s not their fault.” He’s also mentioned small-business loans. But details are slight.