Washington, D.C. - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Republican Chuck Grassley said yesterday that tax proposals should be later considered to address a possible economic downturn due to the coronavirus crisis and that Puerto Rico will not be left out of those considerations.
At a time when the House will vote today on a bill that seeks to focus on the needs that workers without labor rights may have during this emergency, Grassley said that "everything is on the table."
In response to questions from El Nuevo Día, he agreed with the conservative New York Post op-ed, which stated that the United States should depend less on pharmaceutical products from China, where the coronavirus pandemic began.
But, regarding new tax incentives to promote pharmaceutical corporations to establish in Puerto Rico, Grassley said any attempt to revive Section 936 of the federal Internal Revenue Code should begin by analyzing the abuses that led to eliminating that incentive.
Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Monday that it is a good idea to provide more incentives for pharmaceutical manufacturing in Puerto Rico in light of the interest in relying less on Chinese-made products used for U.S. prescription drugs.
According to Grassley, there is a real perception that “we depend too much on China and that more U.S. manufacturing is needed.” However, he added, it is not just the pharmaceutical area, it applies to every step of the supply chain.
With the end of Section 936 - which raised questions about wide profit margins of U.S. corporations -, Puerto Rico was left out of the U.S. supply chain, particularly when it comes to manufacturing drugs and medical equipment, according to experts.
Faced with the possibility of Congress may have to recess for several weeks, the House Democratic majority decided to push for a series of initiatives that will directly address the problems the coronavirus may cause to workers without sick leave or those who lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
The Democratic bill to be voted on in the House today will include paid sick leave to replace some two-thirds of a worker's salary, unemployment funds and nearly $1 billion in emergency nutrition assistance.
So far, the House will not approve any tax measures, such as the reduction in the Social Security payroll deduction, as President Donald Trump proposed, seeking higher paychecks for workers and would be in force until December.
The Power4PuertoRico coalition sent a letter to the congressional leadership asking to apply the reduction in the payroll tax on the island.
"Though most residents of Puerto Rico are exempt from paying federal income taxes, the fact that workers on the Island pay the same amount of payroll taxes as their fellow citizens in the states should be reason enough to include Island residents in this legislation," Erica González, executive director of Power4PuertoRico, said in the letter to congressional leaders.
Although the House originally planned to discuss measures to assist workers after the legislative recess that begins Friday and lasts until March 23, Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) acknowledged that the date will depend on recommendations by health authorities.
Grassley, meanwhile, said he has not seen the House Democrats' proposals.
This influential Republican senator said he has not seen a study on the effect of the payroll tax reduction in more than a decade. However, he noted he does not think he's going to say no to the bill for one reason alone and added that much will depend on what the White House says.
President Trump seeks that measures to address the coronavirus include subsidies for the tourism industry, cargo, airlines, and cruise ships. But he is also looking at measures to benefit oil and natural gas companies.
Grassley suggested that the proposals Trump is interested in would be discussed later, depending on the effect of the coronavirus on the economy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said White House initiatives could be included later but that today “we urge Republicans in the House and Senate to help immediately pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (Democrat), New York, said "I think most people want us to get out of town. Every day we hear about another member who has been touched by this virus," said Lowey, according to The Washington Post.