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Trump proposes payroll tax cut, other measures to offset coronavirus economic damage

The president made the announcement after the stock market plummeted Monday.
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President Donald Trump said Monday that he is looking at a possible payroll tax cut, along with other measures, to help American workers and boost the economy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

He said he'd announce the "dramatic" details of the proposed relief Tuesday. "They will be major," Trump said at a briefing on coronavirus response with members of the coronavirus task force.

Trump said he'd be discussing with Republicans in Congress "a possible payroll tax cut, or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief. It's a big number. We're also going to talk about hourly wage earners' getting help so they can be in a position where they're not ever going to miss a paycheck."

He said they'll "also be working on loans for small businesses" and working to help airlines and cruise lines, as well the hotel industry, which his company is involved in.

"The American public will be taken care of," Trump said.

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Trump has long advocated for a cut in the payroll tax — a tax paid by companies and employees to fund Social Security — to stimulate the economy.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that it would be a temporary move.

"The economy will be in very good shape a year from now. This is not like the financial crisis," Mnuchin said. "This is about providing proper tools of liquidity to go through the next few months."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted after the briefing that what was "glaringly missing from President Trump's press conference was how he is actually going to combat the spread of the coronavirus and keep the American people safe. It seems President Trump is more focused on the stock market than addressing this pandemic." Schumer called for "paid sick leave for all American workers" and "other people-focused initiatives."

While the president and the administration appear eager to shore up what could be a spiraling economy, a payroll tax cut could be a hard sell for Republicans, as well. Senate Republican leaders have so far been reluctant and noncommittal on a stimulus. Congress just passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus aid bill, and the government is already running massive deficits.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said a stimulus seemed "premature." Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee, said, "I don't think that's warranted."

Trump announced the measures after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the day with a loss of around 2,000 points Monday, part of a global market rout that saw spiraling sell-offs in the energy sector amid the biggest drop for crude oil since the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Crude oil prices cratered by 25 percent after the world's producing countries failed to strike a deal at a meeting of oil cartel members in Vienna last week.

Trump made his comments hours after having been on Air Force One with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who announced Monday that he was self-quarantining after learning that he was exposed to a person with the new coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference late last month.

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Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., also learned that he had interacted with the same person at CPAC, and he announced that he was self-quarantining, as well. Collins greeted Trump with a handshake when he touched down in Georgia on Friday and accompanied the president on a tour of the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both Collins and Gaetz, who wore a gas mask on the House floor during the vote on the coronavirus emergency spending bill last week, have not reported having any symptoms.

While some politicians have tried to move away from handshakes to prevent the spread of the virus — Vice President Mike Pence and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee greeted each other with an elbow bump last week — Trump has not.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that the president has not been tested for the virus because he has not had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms.

She said he remains in "excellent" health.

The number of known coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to more than 600 Monday, including 23 deaths.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it was unclear how many Americans have been tested, because the vast majority of tests have been conducted through hospitals and private labs. He said "the CDC is actively working right now" to gather that data.