US congressional Democrats, White House to meet on COVID-19 aid

The US Capitol Building is reflected against an ambulance along the East Front on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jul 16, 2020.

WASHINGTON: Advisers to President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats were set to discuss the next steps in responding to the coronavirus crisis on Tuesday (Jul 21), with congressional Republicans saying they were working on a US$1 trillion relief bill.

In a meeting on Monday at the White House, Republican lawmakers and administration officials said they were making progress toward a fresh round of legislation aimed at cushioning the heavy economic toll of the pandemic.

“Senate Republicans will put forward our proposal soon, I hope our Democratic colleagues will be ready to work together,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, adding that he hoped to unveil the proposal this week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will host a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss coronavirus relief with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, a source familiar with the matter said.

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives have less than two weeks to hammer out a new relief package before enhanced unemployment benefits run out for tens of millions of American workers made jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said on Monday the upcoming Republican proposal would include a cut to the payroll tax on workers’ gross earnings, which funds national retirement programs. Trump favors such a cut as an economic stimulus, but the idea has stirred little enthusiasm on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers worried about protecting the Social Security payments funded by payroll taxes.

“We’re working and negotiating with the Democrats and trying to get a plan that helps small business, helps people, helps this country,” Trump said.

Schumer warned that his party was prepared to stymie any Republican effort to pass partisan legislation. “A bipartisan, bicameral process will result in a much better bill for the American people,” he said in a letter to colleagues.


Congress has so far committed $3 trillion to the crisis. In the more than 12 weeks since Trump signed the last bill into law, the number of U.S. coronavirus cases has more than tripled to over 3.7 million. The virus has killed over 140,000 people in the United States. Both figures lead the world.

McConnell said recent spikes in new cases “show that we are nowhere near out of the woods.”

Mnuchin, who led previous coronavirus bill negotiations with Congress, said on Monday he intended to “focus on starting with another trillion dollars. We think that will have a big impact.”

But Democrats have pledged to fight for legislation akin to the $3 trillion bill the House approved in mid-May, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, extends enhanced unemployment insurance and provides new payments to individuals and families.

The prospect for new legislation was upstaged over the weekend by White House efforts to eliminate billion of dollars of money intended for testing for the virus. Word of the move sparked anger among Democrats and Republicans alike.

“Hopefully, it was a mistake and they’ll back off it, because it is so very wrong,” Pelosi told MSNBC.

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