- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The coronavirus crisis has given Democrats a chance to advance key parts of their liberal agenda, with coronavirus sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and government-covered testing and health care for those who suspect they are infected.

President Trump, meanwhile, has trotted out a reliable Republican proposal: tax cuts to boost a virus-struck economy.

With the coronavirus dominating the nation’s front pages and newscasts, both sides are playing by the maxim of former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Mr. Trump’s plan is for a payroll tax cut through the end of the year, along with targeted relief to the travel industry and other areas of the economy that are suffering business losses.

The list of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is more extensive.

She has floated a mandate of paid sick leave for employees who miss work because of COVID-19 and an expansion of food stamps and unemployment insurance for those who hit on hard times. Democrats have pursued these ideas well before the virus crisis.

Mrs. Pelosi said the government should pay for testing of anyone at risk and guarantee payment of costs for those who need treatment.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday called Mrs. Pelosi’s plans “chopped up.”

“A lot of them are things that [they] wanted to get for other things,” he said. “We’re looking at solving this problem.”

Democrats were just as dismissive of Mr. Trump’s proposed tax cut. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, compared a tax cut to “dropping money out of an airplane and hoping a few dollars land on the people who are affected.”

“We will focus on health care and the tests, and people who are affected. And economic relief should go to the people who are affected as well. Not an across-the-board thing,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Trump assigned Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin to negotiate with Mrs. Pelosi to find common ground on legislation.

But a number of Democrats say Mr. Trump should take steps on his own in areas like immigration enforcement, where they say an order from on high declaring hospitals to be coronavirus sanctuaries, where illegal immigrants can feel safe going for testing or treatment, could prove critical.

“DHS must clarify that undocumented individuals or their relatives will not be referred to immigration authorities if they seek treatment related to potential COVID-19 illness,” the chairs of Congress’s Hispanic, black. and Asian and Pacific Islander caucuses wrote in a joint letter late last week.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says there’s no need for a new order. Hospitals and other medical facilities are already on the “sensitive locations” list, where immigration arrests are not allowed save for “extraordinary circumstances.”

“Claims to the contrary are false and create unnecessary fear within communities,” ICE said. “Individuals should continue to seek care for medical conditions.”

Democrats and immigrant-rights activists have also called on the administration to suspend its new Public Charge policy that allows the government to consider a migrant’s use of welfare programs in deciding whether to issue a green card granting legal permanent residence. Use of certain welfare programs would “weigh heavily” against approval, Homeland Security officials say.

Immigration-rights advocates say people will refuse to go to the hospital for fear of tainting their future prospects.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said there’s “a strong practical case for making sure illegal aliens understand that testing and treatment for Wuhan Flu will happen regardless of immigration status, and that it won’t be counted against public charge for those applying for green cards.”

“But the anti-borders folks want to use it as a pretext for erasing the borders,” he said.

Mr. Krikorian said they learned the lesson of Mr. Emanuel, who in late 2008, as he was helping set up the Obama White House, said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

Mr. Krikorian said in this case “the things the anti-borders crowd could not do before is suspend, roll back, and ultimately delegitimize immigration law.”

While Democrats’ immigration demands are unlikely to be heeded, some of their other ideas did appear to have traction.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration’s coronavirus task force, announced Tuesday that COVID-19 testing and treatment will be available cost-free — though it was done through the free market, with the nation’s insurers agreeing to cover costs without any copay to customers.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the government already has executive authority to expand sick leave for workers — though he didn’t detail what that would look like.

On Mr. Trump’s payroll tax cut, he said the president would prefer it to last through the end of the year — though they aren’t pondering spending cuts to balance the hit to the budget.

“Over time, we’ll make [lost revenue] up with much better economic growth,” said Mr. Kudlow, who declined to estimate a price tag for the emergency package, saying the details are still being worked out.

Even before the virus crisis, Mr. Trump had suggested he was looking for another tax cut — and COVID-19 has given him a push.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said his chief goal is to make sure the final package that emerges on Capitol Hill is bipartisan. That, he said, is the job of Mr. Mnuchin and Mrs. Pelosi.

“We’re hoping that he and the speaker can pull this together so that we end up not playing partisan games at a time which seems to me to cry out for bipartisan, bicameral agreement,” he said.

He pointed to last week’s speedy passage of an emergency spending bill to boost federal assistance amid the crisis as evidence Congress can work when it needs to.

Mr. Schumer said for that to happen, Mr. Trump will have to stay out of the way. He pointed out that in last week’s spending negotiations Mr. Trump had suggested a price tag of $1.2 billion. Mr. Schumer and fellow Democrats suggested $8.5 billion.

“We ended up at the $8.5 billion,” he said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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