Trump demands Democrats pay for coronavirus effort by cutting heating oil for the poor
US President Donald Trump has an unpredictable negotiating style and likes to break with precedent. (AFP/File / SAUL LOEB)

With fears of coronavirus mounting, the pressure is on President Donald Trump's administration to work with Congress to fund immediate infection control and treatment efforts. But the talks do not appear to have gotten off to a good start.

According to Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman of the Washington Post, the administration has demanded that the coronavirus response be funded, in part, by cutting funding for low-income heating oil assistance.

"A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families," they reported.

This program, a frequent target for cuts by the GOP, is essential to making sure low-income families' homes are livable in parts of the country where winter temperatures are especially bad.

"The roots of this blowup lie in a request the White House made for $2.5 billion in supplemental spending to respond to coronavirus. This would go to 'accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much-needed equipment and supplies,'" wrote Sargent and Waldman. "Of that $2.5 billion, the administration wants $1.25 billion to be newly appropriated emergency funding and the rest to be taken from other sources, including $535 million from money allocated to the Ebola response, and other funds taken from other programs. (The LIHEAP money is being transferred legally under budgetary statutes designed to give agencies funding flexibility.)"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has rejected the administration's plan. House Democrats are calling for the entire program to be funded with new emergency appropriations.