Trump, GOP scramble to keep economy from derailing

The sudden plunge of the U.S. stock market from record highs and a wave of alarms about a possible recession has caught President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill by surprise and sent them scrambling for proposals to restore confidence in the economy.

The strong economy has long been considered the GOP’s best argument going into the 2020 election, but it’s unclear if that will be the case this summer and fall. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday fell by more than 2,000 points, marking the worst trading day since the 2008 financial collapse, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite dropped by similarly large amounts.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump met with his senior economic advisers Monday to discuss how to quell the growing panic over how coronavirus may affect the global economy, a problem compounded by the outbreak of a war over oil prices between Russia and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest suppliers. A payroll tax cut, paid leave for people who get sick, another Fed rate cut and a rescue package for the airline industry and other industries affected by the virus were several of the options under discussion at the White House.

Trump will also meet with senior Wall Street executives this week to discuss how to restore some calm to the markets, which themselves could become a drag on the economy if the intense selling pressure on equities and buying pressure on bonds doesn’t let up.

The White House and GOP leaders hastily arranged for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner Mnuchin The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Association of American Railroads Ian Jefferies says no place for hate, racism or bigotry in rail industry or society; Trump declares victory in response to promising jobs report Trump signs bill giving businesses more time to spend coronavirus loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million MORE and National Economic Council Director Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE to meet with Senate Republicans at lunch Tuesday to discuss steps to avert a looming recession.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - DC preps for massive Saturday protest; Murkowski breaks with Trump Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump CBO releases analysis on extending increased unemployment benefits MORE (R-Iowa) announced Monday that his panel is already exploring a variety of tax-relief proposals, telling reporters “everything’s on the table.”

Grassley acknowledged he’s worried about the threat of a recession, something that would play havoc with Trump’s reelection and Senate Republicans’ efforts to keep control of the upper chamber.

“You’re seeing some industries shut down, some businesses shut down. And there’s three ways the federal government can tackle it. The Federal Reserve’s already done it by reducing interest rates. They may do that again. We’ve got tax policy that we can do through our committee, and we’ve got stimulus,” Grassley said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Fed announced an emergency half-percentage-point rate cut last week, but it failed to stop the sell-off.

GOP senators say the White House recommendations will lay the groundwork for what they do in Congress. However, it remains to be seen if the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House can agree on any fix other than coronavirus spending bills. 

“Right now they’re just starting to give consideration to any type of menu of options,” Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell MORE (S.D.) said of the Finance Committee’s consideration of stimulus measures.

“I think we’re going to wait and hear what the White House has on it,” he added.

Thune said there’s likely more support for “maybe some targeted stuff.”

“There are going to be certain sectors that are really feeling most of the economic impact,” he said, alluding to airlines, cruise ship companies and oil producing and transport companies.

Trump on Monday evening proposed a payroll tax cut and relief for hourly workers to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Oil prices plunged 24 percent on Monday in the biggest drop since 1991 after OPEC, the cartel of major oil-producing countries, failed to strike a deal on production cuts.

The stunning drop in oil prices has raised fears of a wave of bankruptcies in the domestic energy industry, where the cost of producing a barrel of oil is often higher than in Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries.

“On the oil front, my concern is that the supply glut gets so great at a time of shrinking demand because of the coronavirus and other things that this could be a fairly deep hole to dig out of,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John Cramer7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats MORE (R-N.D.), who represents an oil-producing state.

Republicans worry a sudden economic downturn might not only hurt Trump’s chances of winning a second term but also their chances of holding onto the Senate majority.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million Is the 'endless frontier' at an end? Hillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections MORE (Ind.) said he and his colleagues will be in close consultation with senior administration officials and other economic experts.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The Federal Reserve already ticked down interest rates. That’s one way to stimulate the economy. It’s unclear whether fiscal stimulus will be necessary and appropriate, but we’ll all be consulting with economists and business leaders and our constituents as we make these decisions,” he said.

Young added the administration and members of Congress are preparing for “the absolute worst,” in case conditions break down even further.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyHouse pushes back schedule to pass spending bills Top Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care GOP senators not tested for coronavirus before lunch with Trump MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters last week that he’s open to a stimulus package and pointed to an infrastructure spending bill as something that could attract bipartisan support. But Shelby said he’d want a major spending package paid for, which would then put the onus on negotiators to find ways to raise revenue through taxes or fees, or savings through spending cuts.

“We’ve been talking about infrastructure a long time. That would be a popular stimulus,” he said. “The economy is still good but a lot of people are nervous all over the world, and they should be. We don’t where this virus will play out or how long it will take.”

“It will have some effect on the economy,” he warned.

Some Republicans, however, aren’t yet convinced stimulus measures are necessary.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think it’s premature to be talking about that,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP chairmen stake out turf in Obama-era probes Cornyn presses DOJ to release results of investigation into Larry Nassar probe Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Finance Committee who is up for reelection this year.

He predicted there will be pressure on Saudi Arabia to reconsider its decision to ramp up oil production.

“I think the Saudis miscalculated and so I think that’s a conversation that needs to happen between either our State Department and the Saudi officials or the president with the crown prince,” he said, referring to Mohammed bin Salman.

When Senate Republicans held their all-day retreat last month, there was no talk about the need for a stimulus package, but now there’s a sense of urgency.  

Asked about the possibility of a recession, Grassley said, “I’m concerned about it enough that I think as far as tax policy is concerned we ought to be on top of it.”

Jordain Carney and Brett Samuels contributed.