Republican leaders gathered Monday at the White House to stake out an opening position on new coronavirus stimulus talks, vowing to oppose more generous unemployment insurance payments and to pass liability protections for businesses.
President Trump also repeated his desire to see a temporary payroll tax cut — an idea that didn’t gain traction in past pandemic negotiations.
Negotiations on a new bill begin this week as lawmakers return to DC after a long Fourth of July vacation. A desired August vacation is pressing politicians to whip up a deal quickly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in the Oval Office that it’s essential for Congress to pass liability protections for companies during the pandemic, which some Democrats oppose.
“We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits,” McConnell said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ky.) said it was important that unemployment benefits don’t give workers an incentive not to return to work. Many Republicans want to reduce or eliminate a $600-a-week bump in unemployment that expires this month.
“We don’t think any federal money should be spent, it gives you a disincentive to work, we want to make sure we have incentives to keep going. For those small businesses, we’ll make sure the kids can go back to school but go back safely not just for the children but for the teachers as well,” McCarthy said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the top White House negotiator on coronavirus packages, said the GOP focus is on “kids and jobs and vaccines.”
“We’re going to make sure that we don’t pay people more money to stay at home and go to work, we want to make sure that people who can go to work safely can do so, we’ll have tax credits that incentivize businesses to bring people back to work, will have tax credits for PPE for safe work environment,” Mnuchin said.
Trump said he remained hopeful about a payroll tax cut.
“It’s been proven to be successful and it’s a big saving for the people. It’s a tremendous saving and an incentive for companies to hire their workers back and to keep their workers,” Trump said. “The payroll tax to me is very important.”
In May, House Democrats passed a $3 trillion package containing bailouts to state and local governments, as well as rent and mortgage assistance and other provisions. Both Democrats and Republicans have supported a new round of direct stimulus payments.
The new bill is likely to be the result of protracted negotiations. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reportedly wrote to colleagues that he’s concerned Republicans may take a “one-party approach to this legislation” and warned that it delayed a $2 trillion package in March and “it won’t work this time around either.”