WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told lawmakers he wants to see a payroll tax cut that would go at least through the election to give consumer spending a jolt as the coronavirus threatens to cripple economic growth.

The president told Republicans at a closed-door lunch Tuesday that he wants the payroll tax cut to go to zero through the end of the year, according to a White House and a Senate official.

Another White House official added that different timelines for the cuts were discussed. Trump is currently only backing those stretching through at least November or December, with some talk of expanding the cuts beyond 2020. That official argued that anything shorter would be bad politically and make less economic sense, with the impact of the coronavirus likely to stretch through the summer.

March 10, 2020

Trump has made the growing economy, record stock market numbers, and low unemployment a keystone of his re-election pitch sometimes telling crowds that they have no choice but to vote for him or else their retirement savings will be at risk. Under the president’s timeline, he would ensure that the major tax is zeroed out throughout his re-election campaign.

Trump also repeated to senators his Monday comments expressing a desire for federal assistance to provide paid sick leave, loans for small businesses and tax relief for specific industries, according to White House aides and senators who attended the lunch.

Help for the oil industry was also discussed, senators said. The White House is considering federal assistance to the shale oil industry, which has been hit hard by the oil price collapse this week, said a White House official. But the official cautioned that the situation is still fluid and that any aid would not be on the level of an industry bail out.

Payroll taxes are paid by employers and employees with workers paying 6.2 percent of their salary up to $137,000 to fund Social Security and their employers matching that amount. It would provide little relief though to people who were to get laid off as a result of an economic downturn.

“They are talking about specific industries that would be hurt the worst and to try and get first of all this payroll tax deduction,” Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who, like the president, is up for re-election this year. “So I think that’s at the top of my list as having immediate impact. My view is whatever you do, you want to roll it through the end of the year.”

But Perdue admitted that the stimulus tool won’t help everyone.

“If you’re not getting paid, that doesn’t help,” Perdue said.

The tax cuts and other forms of major economic stimulus would have to be approved by Congress and require support from Democrats. Trump’s allies in Congress have publicly told to put politics aside and work with Democrats in order to get an economic assistance package passed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to discuss the outlines of an economic stimulus package. Asked if any measure could get passed this week before recess, Pelosi said she “will see” and that Democrats were readying their own package.

Eamon Javers, CNBC contributed.


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