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GOP leaders meet with Trump to chart new coronavirus stimulus, but fight with Democrats looms

2020-07-22

Republican congressional leaders headed to the White House on Monday to draw up their plan for a new coronavirus stimulus plan as the pandemic continues to rage out of control on President Trump’s watch.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with Trump to hammer out a list of priorities, including a payroll tax cut that would benefit the wealthy and another round of checks to Americans.

Republicans want a slimmed-down extension of the enhanced unemployment payment that has kept the economy’s head above water for now as the pandemic wreaks havoc with American life in a presidential election year.

GOP lawmakers are cobbling together a spending plan with a price tag of about $1 trillion.

That’s a 10-digit splurge but still far less than the $3 trillion Heroes Act passed by the Democratic-led House several weeks ago. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is warning that any new plan must include hundreds of billions in aid to hard-hit cities and states like New York.

Trump is pushing back on plans to include $25 billion for coronavirus testing because he wants to hand over responsibility — and potential blame — for testing shortfalls to states.

The Republican plan also includes $75 billion to help with back-to-school efforts, which are shaping up as the next flashpoint in Trump’s effort to manage the presidency-defining coronavirus crisis.

Trump is insisting that back-to-school aid must be contingent on schools reopening for in-person classes, even though parents and teachers are jittery about returning to the classroom with COVID-19 still spreading out of control.

It’s not clear whether Republicans will go along with another huge stimulus, which some one-time fiscal conservatives see as another budget-busting giveaway to Democrats.

And it’s also far from a done deal that Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will cave to Republican demands given that many analysts believe Trump’s dwindling reelection hopes rest on boosting the economy as much and as quickly as possible.

Trump showed no signs of changing the finger-pointing and blame game that has been a hallmark of his management of the pandemic.

“It came from China, it should not have been allowed to get out, they could have stopped it,” Trump said during a press briefing alongside the GOP leaders.

He also vowed to resume his controversial daily coronavirus briefings, which were scrapped after his infamous suggestion to inject disinfectants as a defense against coronavirus.

Trump has flip-flopped from discounting the pandemic’s danger to agreeing to shut down the economy and back again. All the while, he has stubbornly refused to take charge and effectively passed the buck to governors.

The new round of political squabbling comes against the grim background of the still-spreading pandemic that could scupper any recovery hopes.

The death toll has passed 140,000 as the virus spreads like wildfire in the Sun Belt, mostly in Republican-run states that ignored public health guidelines to reopen their economy early and aggressively.

Trump and his Republican acolytes were hoping that they could reverse the stunning economic downturn that put tens of millions out of work. But the resurgent pandemic has forced even GOP leaders to consider reimposing restrictions.

The payroll tax cut, which primarily benefits the wealthy because they pay more federal tax on a weekly basis, is particularly controversial because Democrats would rather target finite resources at the poor and most vulnerable.

Pelosi and Schumer also bitterly oppose the liability shield, which they say will allow employers to skirt coronavirus safety rules with impunity.

Democrats also want hundreds of billions of dollars to go directly to states and cities that have borne the heaviest burden of fighting the pandemic. Trump and McConnell have derided that proposed aid as a wasteful “blue state bailout.”