Debate over an emergency economic package is off to a rough start

Both parties have some ideas about bolstering the economy in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The two sides are not, however, especially close.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) alongside members of the Coronavirus Task Force in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House
President Donald Trump speaks about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) alongside members of the Coronavirus Task Force in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, March 9, 2020.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump raised a few eyebrows on Monday afternoon when he declared, "I think what we will be doing is having a news conference tomorrow to talk about various things that we're doing economically." He added, "I will be here tomorrow afternoon to let you know about some of the economic steps we're taking, which will be major."

Those expecting the president to follow through on this commitment were disappointed: the Republican did not return yesterday afternoon to outline his plan to bolster the economy in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. That said, as the New York Times reported, talks on a possible stimulus package are underway.

President Trump and lawmakers began negotiations on Tuesday for an emergency relief package to bolster an economy battered by the coronavirus crisis, with lawmakers and administration officials expressing optimism despite partisan divisions about what to include.

The Times' article pointed to a White House package that could cost nearly $700 billion -- a price tag that would rival the cost of the Wall Street bailout in 2008 and the Recovery Act in 2009.

But while there is no formal proposal to scrutinize on the merits, there have been a variety of reports about the kinds of provisions the president wants to see. Trump is clearly interested in a payroll tax holiday, which leaders of both parties are skeptical of.

Complicating matters, Bloomberg News reported yesterday that the president specifically told Republican senators that "he wants a payroll tax holiday through the November election so that taxes don't go back up before voters decide whether to return him to office."

I believe that's part of a phenomenon known as saying the quiet part loud. Indeed, it reinforced concerns that Trump isn't just looking for a stimulus package that would boost the economy; he's also looking for a plan that would boost his re-election prospects.

The Times' report added that Republicans are also eyeing aid to the shale oil industry and oil companies hurt by recent price drops. The president himself added this week that he's eyeing financial support for the hotel industry, which seems problematic given that Trump continues to own and profit from hotels that bear his name.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have a dramatically different direction in mind, focused on paid sick-leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, improved food security, and expanded medical treatment options.

Rumor has it, the House Democratic leadership will unveil a plan today, with a vote coming as quickly as tomorrow. But with Republican opposition to the progressive package likely, and GOP officials eyeing a very different kind of approach, the prospects for a quick compromise and speedy reaction aren't great.

Congress is scheduled to be out next week. As I type, the Dow is down another 1,200 points today.