WASHINGTON: As the US coronavirus cases rose steadily, the White House and the Congress negotiated measures on Tuesday to bolster the US economy and Americans’ paychecks against the outbreak’s impact, although there was no immediate sign of a deal.
The rise in the number of US cases of COVID-19, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness, has concerned health officials and spurred calls within Congress for action to expand testing and avert an economic meltdown.
“We had a good reception on Capitol Hill. We’re going to be working with Republican and Democratic leadership to move a legislative package,” Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s coronavirus task force, told a White House briefing.
Almost three-quarters of the US states have confirmed cases of COVID-19. A running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University center tracking the outbreak puts the number of cases at 1,025, with 28 deaths. Washington state’s governor warned of tens of thousands more cases without “real action,” and New York’s governor deployed National Guard troops as a containment measure in a hard-hit New York City suburb.
The US stocks rebounded in their largest daily gain since late 2018 on hopes that a government stimulus package was in the making. In Asia, though, on Wednesday, Asian shares and Wall Street futures fell as growing scepticism about Washington’s stimulus knocked the steam out of the rally.
A central feature of the administration’s legislative proposal is payroll tax relief, although the extent and duration of the proposal were unclear. White House officials have also said the administration could undertake executive action to help small businesses and workers, including those who do not receive paid sick leave.
The US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading negotiations on behalf of Republican President Donald Trump, met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss a possible deal. “We’re going to work together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how we can get things done quickly that are going to help the Americans that are most impacted by this and small and medium-sized businesses that are impacted,” he said.
Pelosi said the meeting was aimed at seeing “where our common ground was” on a set of legislative proposals. In remarks to reporters, she warned that any package should not contain “trickle-down solutions that only help a few.”
Democrats are challenging the Trump administration to tightly target new measures at people directly affected by the coronavirus. Any measure would need to pass the Democratic-controlled House as well as the Republican-controlled Senate before reaching Trump’s desk.
“I hope we don’t play politics with this. Mixing politics with a pandemic is not good. It’s terribly counterproductive,” said Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
All three major US benchmark stock indexes on Tuesday rose nearly 5%, one day after suffering their largest losses since the 2008 financial crisis. Prospects for a second day of gains on Wednesday dimmed as U.S. equity index futures slid 1% after the overnight trading session got under way.
Trump met with Republican lawmakers and again downplayed the risks from the coronavirus. “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” he said. (Reuters)
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