Trump pushes Congress for new coronavirus spending as Senate mulls second emergency bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Than U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration pushed lawmakers to send money directly to Americans to counter the economic toll of the coronavirus outbreak, as the Senate weighed a multibillion-dollar emergency bill passed by the House of Representatives.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was poised to meet with Senate Republicans to discuss a plan to send checks to Americans affected by the crisis, and Trump told reporters the payments could amount to $1,000.

The Republican president’s tone on the coronavirus pandemic has changed sharply in the past few days. After initially playing down the threat of the outbreak that has spread rapidly across the United States, killing at least 95 people, his administration has begun pushing for urgent action to stem the disease’s economic toll.

The administration was talking about a new stimulus package of around $850 billion, one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It would be the third coronavirus aid plan to be considered by Congress just this month. Trump signed the first $8.3 billion package to battle the coronavirus on March 6.

The House over the weekend passed a second measure that would require paid sick leave for some workers and expand unemployment compensation, among other steps, including nearly $1 billion in additional money to help feed children, homebound senior citizens and others.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said his chamber is “anxious” to approve the House measure, a move that could take place on Tuesday.

Slideshow ( 10 images )

“The Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps, above and beyond what the House passed,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, however, warned that cutting the payroll tax - one of Trump’s favored proposals - “may be premature and the wrong response” to fighting the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. Even some Senate Republicans were not enamored of cutting the payroll tax.

Members of both political parties were talking about large amounts of additional money to help blunt the impact of the fast-spreading disease. The outbreak has killed more than 7,500 people worldwide, caused massive disruptions to daily life across the country and hammered the U.S. stock market that Trump has long touted as a barometer of his administration’s performance.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, early Tuesday said the White House wanted $500 billion in a payroll tax cut, a $50 billion bailout for airlines struggling from plummeting demand, and $250 billion for small business loans.

But when Trump and Mnuchin spoke at midday, their emphasis had shifted; both men noted that a payroll tax cut would take longer.

Schumer has talked of spending $750 billion on things like expanding unemployment insurance, bolstering the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor and funding emergency childcare for healthcare workers.

Slideshow ( 10 images )

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement laying out what she wanted to see in a third coronavirus aid package, including refundable tax credits for self-employed workers and ensuring that sick workers can get longer-term leave if needed.

“During negotiations, the Democratic House will continue to make clear to the administration that any emergency response package must put families first, before any aid to corporate America is considered,” Pelosi said.

Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican ally of Trump, expressed concerns about the size of the proposed third-phase bill, which he said could take the Senate days or even weeks to deliberate.

Republican Senator Mike Braun, another White House ally, said the first priority should be to help small-business employees hit by the outbreak through the unemployment insurance system rather than through the House tax credit and sick leave mandate. He said larger stimulus issues, including a payroll tax cut, can wait.

“I don’t think it’s wise to spend our money on so-called stimulus, like a payroll tax cut. I think it is a good idea to spend money stabilizing the economy,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican. “The economy’s not the problem, the disease is the problem. When we restrain the disease, the economy will bounce back, in my opinion, probably quickly.”

Reporting by David Shepardson, Susan Heavey,David Morgan, Jeff Mason, and Richard Cowan; writing by Susan Cornwell; editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio