GOP leaders, Trump to discuss aid to viruses as crisis deepens

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WASHINGTON – Key congressional Republicans expected to meet with US President Donald Trump on the upcoming COVID-19 aid program on Monday as the administration spent more money on testing viruses and disrupted other priorities that could complicate a quick passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was ready to roll out the $ 1 trillion package within days. But the divisions between the majority of the GOP Senate and the White House have posed new challenges. Congress was back in session this week when the much-hoped-for coronavirus crisis was only getting worse – just like the expiration of previous federal emergency assistance.

Trump again insisted on Sunday that the virus would “go away,” but the president’s view did not at all match the forecasts of leading medical professionals who were working to end the alarming number of cases and dead in the United States.

McConnell and GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy were due to meet with Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “to fine tune” the legislation, Acting Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News.

McConnell’s package had been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and is expected to include $ 75 billion to help schools reopen, cut unemployment benefits as well as a new round of direct cash payments of $ 1,200 to Americans and a five-year liability shield against the coronavirus. lawsuits.

But as the White House intervened, the administration forecasted $ 25 billion in proposed new funds for testing and tracing, said a Republican familiar with the talks. The administration’s objections were first reported by the Washington Post.

Trump was also relaunching his campaign for tax relief, which was under serious consideration, said another Republican. The two spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.

The new White House push has put the administration at odds with GOP allies in Congress, a disconnect that threatened to upend an already difficult legislative process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already passed the Democrats’ sweeping $ 3 trillion proposal and virus cases and deaths have only increased since.

Trump sounded the alarm on Capitol Hill when he suggested at a rally in Oklahoma last month that he wanted to slow down virus testing. Some of Trump’s GOP allies wanted money to help test and track the virus to contain its spread. Senate Democrats were investigating why the Trump administration had yet to spend some of the $ 25 billion previously allocated to testing in an earlier aid bill.

The payroll tax Trump also wanted split his party. Senate Republicans in particular opposed wage tax relief as an insufficient response to millions of unemployed Americans, especially since they tried to keep the total price of the aid package no more than $ 1 trillion.

Trump said in a Fox News interview on Sunday that he would consider not signing any bills unless he understood the payroll tax relief, which many GOP senators objected to.

“I want to see it,” he said.

Lawmakers returned to a partially closed Capitol still closed to tourists to consider what will be a fifth COVID-19 aid program. After passing the $ 2.2 trillion relief bill in March, Republicans were hoping the virus would subside and the economy would rebound, so more help wouldn’t be needed.

But as the COVID-19 cases reached alarming new heights and the death toll increased, the devastating cycle of the pandemic recurred, leaving Congress with no choice but to organize another costly rescue. Businesses were closing again, schools could not fully reopen and jobs were disappearing as federal emergency aid expired.

“It is not going to magically disappear,” said a grim McConnell, R-Ky., Last week during a visit to the hospital in his home country to thank front-line workers.

As McConnell prepared to roll out his more than $ 1 trillion proposal, he admitted it would not have full backing.

The political stakes were high for all parties ahead of the November elections, but even higher for the nation, which has now recorded more coronavirus infections and a higher death toll than any other country.

Just as the ferocious cycle of the pandemic began again, the first wave of aid was running out.

A federal increase of $ 600 per week in regular unemployment benefits would expire at the end of the month. The same goes for the federal ban on evictions of millions of rental units.

With 17 consecutive weeks of unemployment claims exceeding 1 million – usually around 200,000 – many households were facing a liquidity crisis and were losing employer-sponsored health insurance coverage.

Despite the sparkles of an economic recovery as states eased stay-at-home orders in May and June, the unemployment rate remained in double digits, higher than ever during the Great Recession of the past decade.

Pelosi’s bill, approved in May, included $ 75 billion for testing and tracing to try to control the spread of the virus, funneled $ 100 billion to schools to reopen safely and called for sending $ 1 trillion in cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and avoid layoffs. The measure would give cash benefits to Americans, and strengthen rental and mortgage and other safety net protections.

In the two months after the Pelosi bill was passed, the United States recorded 50,000 deaths and an additional 2 million infections.

“If we don’t invest the money now, it will be a lot worse,” Pelosi said.

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