US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, DC, the US, March 16 2020. Picture: OLIVER CONTRERAS/BLOOMBERG
US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, DC, the US, March 16 2020. Picture: OLIVER CONTRERAS/BLOOMBERG

Washington — The US Senate was weighing a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill on Tuesday passed by the House of Representatives offering economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic as the Trump administration pressed for $850bn more.

The House of Representatives passed a measure at the weekend that would require sick leave for workers and expand unemployment compensation among other steps, including nearly $1bn in additional money to help feed children, housebound senior citizens and others.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said his chamber is “anxious” to approve the House measure, a move that could happen on Tuesday.

“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 warned that cutting the payroll tax — apparently the largest chunk of the Trump administration’s new proposal — “may be premature and the wrong response” to fighting the effect of the coronavirus on the economy. Even some Senate Republicans were not enamoured of cutting the payroll tax.

Members of both political parties were talking about large amounts of additional money to help blunt the effect of the fast-spreading disease. The outbreak has killed more than 7,000 people worldwide, including at least 89 in the US, caused huge disruptions to daily life across the country and hammered global financial markets.

Unemployment insurance

The Trump administration wants $500bn in a payroll tax cut, a $50bn bailout for airlines struggling from plummeting demand, and $250bn for small business loans, a US government official said.

Schumer, meanwhile, has talked of spending $750bn on things such as expanding unemployment insurance, bolstering the Medicaid health-care programme for the poor and funding emergency childcare for health-care workers.

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to discuss the administration’s $850bn stimulus proposal later on Tuesday with Senate Republicans at the Capitol, officials and legislators said.

It would be the third coronavirus aid plan to be considered just in March. Trump signed the first $8.3bn package to battle the coronavirus on March 6.

But the administration’s latest plan could encounter roadblocks in the Senate, where some conservative Republicans have already expressed doubts about the second House-passed aid package. Other Republicans dislike the payroll tax cut idea favoured by President Donald Trump.

“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 stabilising 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.” 

Reuters