(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump would support narrow legislation to provide more financial aid to airlines, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Thursday after meeting with industry executives.
Passengers walk past thermal imaging cameras at Los Angeles International Airport.
Meadows said the industry needs $25 billion, and that up to 50,000 jobs are at risk. Airlines have warned that they plan mass reductions after an existing federal prohibition on job cuts expires at the close of business on Sept. 30.
Extending payroll assistance for airlines has bipartisan support as a way to to avert politically treacherous layoffs a month before the U.S. elections, but so far there’s been no agreement as to how.
“I never thought I’d say $25 billion was a small number, but compared to $1.5 trillion, it’s a rather small amount of additional assistance that could potentially keep 30,000 to 50,000 workers on the payroll,” Meadows said.
“If we’re going to get something separate prior to that deadline, it’s going to have to happen next week,” he said of an airline-only bill. That would ensure it gets to Trump’s desk before layoffs begin on Oct. 1, he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has opposed “piecemeal” virus relief bills as part of her strategy for Democrats to win agreement on a multitrillion relief measure. She contradicted that stance when she called the House back into session during the August recess to vote on a $25 billion Postal Service bill in the wake of mail delays.
Letter to Leadership
In August, 16 Republican senators signed a letter calling on leadership to add $25 billion in payroll funds in a package of Covid-19 assistance. Some Republicans opposed the measure and it wasn’t part of a stripped-down bill that in any event failed to pass the chamber.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership team in that chamber, said he favors aid for airlines, which are now operating at 70% capacity. But he said it should be added to a broader stimulus bill.
“If there’s a package, I think that needs to be and should be part of it,” Blunt said Thursday. He added that he doesn’t think airline aid could pass separately. “It needs to be part of the broader package. There are less than 50 days to a presidential election. There’s only so much wind here and we’d better take advantage of any sail we have.”
Back in July, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers called for more airline aid to prevent layoffs.
The prospect of fresh assistance failed to immediately reassure airline investors. All major U.S. carriers in a Standard & Poor’s 500 gauge were down on Thursday, joining a retreat in broader equity markets. The S&P 500 was off 1.2% at 1:48 p.m. in New York.
Carriers have been badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, which led many Americans to abandon air travel. After airline passenger counts surged somewhat around the close of summer and the