Washington — Talks on a new coronavirus stimulus package are set to start on Monday as the Trump administration at the weekend balked at $25bn in new funding favoured by Republican legislators to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, an insider said.
Trump’s team also opposes a plan to allocate billions for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and extra funding for the Pentagon and state department to address the pandemic around the world, said a person, who was not authorised to speak publicly.
President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows said talks at the White House on Monday will be attended by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and others.
Meadows said priorities include funding to expedite development of therapeutics and vaccines for the coronavirus, “protections for the American worker and those that employ individuals” and the manufacturing sector, particularly bringing jobs back to the US from abroad.
“It looks like that new package will be in the trillion-dollar range, as we have started to look at it, whether it’s a payroll tax deduction, whether it’s making sure that unemployment benefits continue without a disincentive to return to work,” Meadows said.
McConnell has been preparing to unveil a GOP-only bill this week before engaging in negotiations with Democrats on what would be the fifth legislative action to address the coronavirus, and likely the last before the November election.
The person familiar said Mnuchin has proposed that the funding for coronavirus testing be cut, and money included instead for a new FBI headquarters, long a priority for Trump.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment, while Treasury officials did not immediately comment. The administration’s proposals were first reported by the Washington Post.
Missouri senator Roy Blunt, a member of the appropriations committee, had been asked to craft a health-care section of the bill and has said he wants robust funding for it.
Senate Republicans want to provide the means to ramp up coronavirus testing and contact tracing, but the administration argues that previously approved money for testing remains unspent.
Trump has also repeatedly questioned the value of widespread testing, contending that the numbers of infections would be lower if fewer tests were conducted.
A spokesperson for Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger in November’s election, termed the administration’s efforts “absolutely unconscionable”.
“Donald Trump is turning his back on his most important responsibility to the American people because, in the words of his own advisers, he ‘doesn’t want to be distracted by’ the worst public health crisis in 100 years,” Biden spokesperson Andrew Bates said in an e-mailed statement on Saturday.
The White House on Thursday signalled that Trump may reject a new aid bill if it does not include a payroll tax cut, which is opposed by many Democratic legislators as well as some Republicans.
Trump earlier played down rising coronavirus cases in the US, saying many people experience nothing more than “sniffles”, that positive tests are only up because of wider testing, and that the US response is the “envy of the world”.
Trump also said that Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious-disease expert, is a “little bit of an alarmist” but that the two men have a “great relationship”.
Trump made the comments in a lengthy interview on Fox News on Sunday that was recorded Friday.
Asked about rising Covid-19 diagnoses, Trump offered that “many of those cases are young people who would heal in a day, they have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.
“Show me the death chart,” Trump said when asked about daily cases in the US now exceeding 75,000. “The death chart is much more important.”
The daily US death toll from Covid-19 is down sharply from the spring but has been creeping up again in July. Total deaths now exceed 140,000.
The CDC reported on July 18 the US had 3,630,587 inflections.
“We have embers and we do have flames. Florida became more flame-like, but it’s — it’s going to be under control,” Trump said.
Pressed about past statements that the coronavirus would at some point disappear, Trump said “I’ll be right eventually. I will be right eventually,” adding, “It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right.”
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