Finance

Mnuchin: Trump to prioritize infrastructure in any coronavirus stimulus package

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that infrastructure spending would be a “priority” for President Trump if the economy requires stimulus to power through a slowdown caused by a coronavirus outbreak.

Mnuchin said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing that while the U.S. benefits from a “very resilient economy,” the president and administration could turn to a long-sought bipartisan infrastructure package to boost growth.

“If there’s a need to stimulate the economy as a result of the coronavirus, I am sure that infrastructure is a priority for the president,” Mnuchin said.

Trump and congressional Democrats have long struggled to cement a bipartisan deal to pour billions of dollars into rebuilding U.S. roads, bridges, railroads and waterways. Hopes of a breakthrough have dwindled with just eight months until the 2020 election, but fears of a coronavirus-driven economic slowdown have revived talk of a potential deal.

Mnuchin’s comments on infrastructure came in response to a question from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.). Infrastructure has long been a priority for Neal, and he and Mnuchin had been having conversations about the issue even before the coronavirus outbreak dominated the headlines.

Trump said in a tweet late Monday that he thinks House Democrats should propose a one-year payroll tax cut, saying that such a move would be “great for the middle class.”

But Neal said in his opening statement that he thinks that the administration should prioritize infrastructure as a way to stimulate the economy over short-term tax cuts.

“Before the administration begins to entertain any proposals for temporary tax cuts, the most important way that we can proceed in my judgment … if we were to develop a stimulus package, the soundest way to do that is clearly to proceed with a major infrastructure initiative,” Neal said.

A major obstacle to enactment on an infrastructure package is figuring out how to pay for it. House Democrats released a $760 billion infrastructure package in February but did not include pay-fors. Neal said at the time that Democrats wouldn’t be proposing a revenue stream unless they have an agreement with the administration.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a supporter of increasing the gas tax, noted at Tuesday’s hearing that many states have worked on a bipartisan basis on infrastructure funding in recent years. He said that he hoped that Congress and the administration could look at what has been done in those states.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), whose district has seen coronavirus deaths, asked Mnuchin what steps the administration is taking to help small businesses and workers as result of the outbreak, and if the administration is considering allowing small businesses to delay tax payments.

Mnuchin said that Treasury has a sub-task force to look at business issues, and “as this progresses, we may come back to Congress and look for special actions” concerning small businesses.

DelBene also asked Mnuchin if the administration was considering suspending any tariffs on Chinese or European goods. Mnuchin said that the administration is not considering doing so “at the moment” but will look at options as the outbreak progresses.

Updated at 10:42 a.m.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Earl Blumenauer Richard Neal Steven Mnuchin Suzan DelBene

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