Trump plans payroll tax relief

WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump said his administration will ask Congress to pass payroll tax relief and other quick measures as a public health and economic maelstrom brought on by the coronavirus drew closer to him personally.

Intending to calm the fears of financial markets over the impact of the epidemic, Trump told reporters on Monday he is seeking “very substantial relief” to the payroll tax. Trump also said he was seeking help for hourly-wage workers to ensure they’re “not going to miss a paycheque” and “don’t get penalised for something that’s not their fault”.

He stepped forward with the contours of an initiative after markets dropped sharply and as the outbreak spread. Several Trump confidants in Congress disclosed they were isolating themselves after potential exposure to the virus; one travelled with the president from Florida on Air Force One on Monday; another was his just-tapped new chief of staff.

Trump held a press conference yesterday to outline the proposals, saying his administration and Congress would be “discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief, that’s big, that’s a big number. We’re also going to be talking about hourly wage earners getting help so that they can be in a position where they’re not going to ever miss a pay cheque” .

As Trump grappled with an epidemic whose consequences he has repeatedly played down, the White House asserted it was conducting “business as usual”. But the day’s business was anything but normal. Lawmakers pressed for details on how the Capitol could be made secure, handshakes on the Hill were discouraged and a Pentagon meeting was broken into sub-groups to minimise the number of people in the same room.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the COVID-19 alongside members of the Coronavirus Task Force in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

The president himself dove into handshakes with supporters earlier in the day, when arriving to headline a fundraiser in Longwood, Florida, that raised approximately USD4 million for his re-election campaign and the Republican Party.

On his flight back to Washington he was accompanied by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who later went into a voluntary quarantine. He was one of several GOP lawmakers who were exposed to a person at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) who tested positive for the virus.

His office said he was “mid-flight” on Air Force One when CPAC informed his staff that he had been in contact with the aAttendee who had the virus.

Once the plane landed, Gaetz was immediately tested.

Vice President Mike Pence, who also spoke at CPAC, said he has not been tested for the virus.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump has not been tested because he has not had “prolonged close contacts” with any patients and “does not have any symptoms”.

In Monday morning tweets, Trump vented about the market drop and news that large public gatherings were being called off because of the virus.

“At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 22 deaths,” Trump tweeted, comparing it to seasonal influenza and the thousands of deaths that causes. “Think about that!”

Scientists at this stage don’t know what the death rate of the new coronavirus actually is and whether it will wind up being about the same as flu or worse.