CORONAVIRUS

Chuck Grassley welcomes resumption of presidential COVID-19 briefings

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Wa
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

DES MOINES — President Donald Trump’s resumption of coronavirus briefings is “quite frankly, a breath of a fresh air,” according to Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“The American people just need to be leveled with,” the Iowa Republican said Wednesday about the president’s Tuesday afternoon briefing on the pandemic. “I think he’s kind of doing that when he’s finally admitting that whether you want to wear a mask or not — I don’t want to wear one, but I do — he tells people to wear a mask ... and that this thing could get worse before it gets better.”

The briefings, which Trump said would continue on a daily basis, are “very healthy for any president,” Grassley told reporters.

Although he welcomes the resumption of daily briefings, Grassley said it doesn’t add to the urgency of the work Congress is doing to fashion a fourth phase of pandemic relief. Members knew six weeks ago it was likely another round of assistance would be necessary, but wanted to see if efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 were successful and whether the economy was rebounding.

“There’s a whole mess of ideas floating out there, including some of Chuck Grassley’s ideas of what Congress should put in the package,” he said. One of Grassley’s priorities is to include his proposal to limit increases in prescription drug prices to no more than the change in the consumer price index. That would be 2 percent this year, he said.

Action now is important because “the price of medicine is both a health issue and a pocketbook issue,” Grassley said.

As Finance Committee chairman, Grassley will be involved in discussions about supplemental unemployment benefits, support for rural health care and tax relief.

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The supplemental jobless benefits will continue, but not at the current $600 a week, he said. At $600 a week, the federal government is creating “unfair competition” for small businesses trying to get employees back to work.

He’s not a big fan of a payroll tax cut because it might be October before it’s implemented. If people get $30 or $40 more in their paychecks they might not notice it, especially if they are working irregular hours or overtimes because of the pandemic.

If there’s a payroll tax cut, Congress would have to use income tax revenue to replace Social Security payroll taxes, Grassley added.

However, if people get a second direct stimulus payment, they’re more likely to notice and spend it, he said.

“Even if it’s something less than $1,200 to the same people again, most of them are probably going to spend and if they don’t spend it they are at least going to know they’re getting it,” he said.

Grassley emphasized that it’s early days in the discussion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to cap the fourth phase package at $1 trillion, “so you kind of have a zero sum game” because whatever spending is added has to be offset somewhere else in the deal.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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