U.S. airlines urge relief as White House signals possible piecemeal aid

FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. airlines urged top lawmakers on Wednesday to advance a standalone bill that would extend $25 billion in payroll support through March, as the Trump administration signaled possible piecemeal legislation a day after walking away from broad COVID-19 relief talks.

“We are disappointed that negotiations between Congress and the Administration over additional COVID-19 relief were suddenly suspended yesterday,” Airlines for America, the main industry trade group, and a dozen airline unions wrote in a letter on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

“Now, in the absence of an overall COVID-19 relief package, we urge you to advance standalone legislation to extend the PSP (payroll support program),” it said.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Earlier, White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told reporters that stimulus talks were off but that negotiators were looking at standalone bills on 10 things that “we agree on.”

The idea of airline relief has so far enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington, though last week Representative Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, failed to win approval of a standalone bipartisan measure for airlines under unanimous consent after some Republicans objected.

Airline shares jumped on Wednesday after sinking suddenly a day earlier on remarks by President Donald Trump that his administration would abandon talks with congressional Democrats over proposals to spend at least $1.6 trillion in additional coronavirus relief funds.

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