Mar 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump leaves Senate coronavirus meeting without economic relief plan

Trump and McConnell

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump's Tuesday meeting with Senate Republicans on providing economic relief in response to the coronavirus was chaotic and covered a wide range of ideas, leaving many senators unclear on how the government will deal with growing fears that the U.S. is headed for a recession.

Why it matters: Trump and top White House officials left the meeting with no specific policy proposals to implement at time when the economic and public health impacts of virus are worsening by the hour.

What they're saying: Senate Republicans emerged from Tuesday's lunch and told reporters that they discussed "a menu of tools" in the government's arsenal for how to help stem the negative impacts of the virus on the economy, but said they remained far apart on specific solutions.

  • "If the administration has decided on the specific tools they didn't share that with us," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said. "It's clear the administration is seriously considering a fiscal stimulus. What that will be I don't think anybody's decided yet. You'll not be surprised to learn that senators had plenty of suggestions, particularly when it comes to spending money."
  • "[Trump's] a big, big supporter of a big payroll tax reduction" that would extend over the next several months, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said. "Obama did a payroll tax, I'm not sure how well that worked. I think this president is kind of planning something more dramatic than that."
  • Johnson added that different senators have different ideas, with some floating a permanent payroll tax cut. "But as a deficit hawk, realizing these programs are already underfunded, I mean, I would scratch my head going, how's that gonna work?" he added.

Several senators said the idea of implementing an infrastructure package was a central theme of the discussions, with the goal of providing more well-paying jobs to workers in need. But, similar to previous attempts of passing an infrastructure bill, there are disagreements on how to fund it.

  • "I brought up the infrastructure which I've talked about before," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. "Trump's been through this before. We gotta say how we can pay for it."

Meeting attendees: Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro were all present.

  • Mnuchin later met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but left that meeting with little to say.
  • "I wouldn't say it's negotiations," Mnuchin told reporters. "We're having discussions about various different policies. ... There's a lot of interest in a bipartisan basis to get something done quickly."
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