Trump floats payroll tax cut, other financial relief amid coronavirus outbreak

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President Donald Trump on Monday said he will be meeting with Senate and House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss “a possible tax relief measure” that would provide “a timely and effective response to the coronavirus.”

“We are to be meeting with House Republicans, Mitch McConnell, and discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief,” Trump said at a press briefing with coronavirus task force members.

Payroll taxes put more money into the pocketbook of workers, but some economists have questioned whether typical stimulus measures will work during the coronavirus crisis, when many may choose to stay at home. That means, even with more money, Americans may not be spending it at restaurants or the movies. 

Trump also said the group will be discussing getting hourly wage earners help, “so they can be in a position where they’re not going to miss a paycheck.”

Many lawmakers have been pushing for paid time off to allow workers who are sick — or who may be sick — the ability to stay home without adding financial hardship. 

The potential tax incentives come on top of an $8.3 billion spending package Trump signed on Friday. The package was aimed in part at supporting research for vaccines and helping support states that are battling the outbreak.

Trump also added that the White House will work with the airline and cruise ship industries in response to the outbreak. 

With airline bookings cratering, advisors in D.C. and on Wall Street had widely expected Trump to step to save companies critical to the economy like United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines.

Cruise lines have also taken a hit. The government on Sunday warned that older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid cruises, adding further pain to the already struggling industry.

“We are going to take care of and have been taking care of the American public and the American economy,” Trump said. 

“This was something that we were thrown into and we’re gonna handle it and we have been handling it very well,” Trump said of the U.S. response to the outbreak, which has been rising in severity since December.

The conference topped off a day of mixed messages on the response to the outbreak from the administration.

On Monday morning, Health Secretary Alex Azar stressed in an interview on Fox News that the United States regards the situation with gravity, saying the coronavirus “is a very serious health problem. Nobody is trying to minimize that.”

But shortly after, as the stock market plunged, Trump downplayed the impact of the outbreak in a tweet.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” he said. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

The White House is inviting Wall Street executives to discuss the response to the outbreak, a meeting that Trump is expected to attend on Wednesday, an administrative official told CNBC.

The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to dozens of countries globally, with more than 113,000 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 3,996 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There have been at least 607 cases in the United States and at least 22 deaths, according to the latest tallies from John Hopkins University. 

The outbreak has roiled markets and led governments to take drastic actions as it rapidly spreads across the globe. 

Correction: This story as revised to correct when Trump signed the $8.3 billion package. It was last week.

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