Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP
Donald Trump said discussions about the coronavirus relief package were going well at the White House on Monday, as Congress began negotiations on how best to address the public health and economic crises in the US.
Related: US scientists rebuke Trump over coronavirus response and other affronts
Republican leaders joined Trump for the Oval Office meeting, where the president said he also planned to bring back daily coronavirus briefings.
“I was doing them and we had a lot of people watching,” Trump said. “Record numbers watching in the history of cable television, and there’s never been anything like it.”
Democrats were meeting separately as the two sides lined up demands for what could be the last major relief package before the November elections. Congress had previously allocated about $3tn for coronavirus relief in four legislative packages.
Points of early disagreement included Republican demands for liability protections for businesses and Democratic demands for more money for states. Democrats also want an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits currently set at $600 a week. Republicans have reportedly eyed reductions, to between $200 and $400.
Argument between the parties could be overshadowed by disagreement between Trump and Republicans. The president is seeking to block billions of dollars in funding for coronavirus testing and contact-tracing efforts, sparking objections from Republicans representing states badly hit by Covid-19, according to multiple reports.
Trump also told Fox News Sunday he “would consider not signing” any bill “if we don’t have a payroll tax cut”. As that would mean cuts to social security and Medicare, it is widely seen as a political non-starter.
“The payroll tax to me is very important,” Trump said on Monday.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, accused his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, of attempting to negotiate the relief package in secret.
“Leader McConnell has said that he wants to write the next coronavirus legislation behind the closed doors of his office,” Schumer said in a letter to colleagues.
“From what we understand from press reports, leader McConnell’s bill will prioritize corporate special interests over workers and main street businesses, and will fail to adequately address the worsening spread of the coronavirus.”
The negotiations began after the US charted more than 75,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday – breaking its own daily record – and total deaths among nearly 3.8m cases surpassed 140,000. Some elected officials have called for a resumption of localized lockdowns in an effort to stem the outbreak.
Initial unemployment claims have settled at between 1m and 2m in recent weeks after topping 6m in April. Small businesses, which have benefited from more than $810bn in relief spending so far, continue to suffer with fewer drop-in customers and retail activity down.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a $3tn funding measure, the Heroes Act, in May but the Republican-held Senate has not taken it up. The new relief package is expected to provide funding for schools to reopen safely and an extension of expanded unemployment relief. The current package of $600 payouts is scheduled to expire at the end of July – though this is the last week most people will receive the payment.
Republicans have resisted extending enhanced unemployment benefits over concerns, they say, that people make more from unemployment than they did at work. Labor advocates have replied that people relying on unemployment during the pandemic need the money for healthcare, childcare, education and other costs. Economists have warned abruptly pulling the money could strain the economy.
In the Oval Office on Monday, the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the starting point for negotiations was $1tn.
“We’re going to make sure that we don’t pay people more money to stay at home than go to work,” he said. “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, we’ll have tax credits for [personal protective equipment] for safe work environment.”
Republican senators had scheduled a working lunch while House Democrats had a caucus meeting on Monday morning. Mnuchin said he and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, would brief Republicans on the administration’s proposals tomorrow.
The clock is ticking, with Congress scheduled to go on recess for the entirety of August.