White House Seeks $1 Trillion From Congress In Coronavirus Relief Push

Mar 17, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 5:25 pm

Updated at 3:46 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is asking Congress for roughly $1 trillion in new economic relief as lawmakers begin work on the next phase of coronavirus relief efforts.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that he worked with the president on the economic package. Their discussions included payments to small businesses, loan guarantees for industries like airlines and hotels, and a stimulus package for workers.

"We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately," Mnuchin said at a press conference at the White House on Tuesday. "Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks."

Mnuchin briefed Senate Republicans on the proposal Tuesday afternoon and has already spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"This is a very unique situation in this economy. We've put a proposal on the table that would inject $1 trillion into the economy, that is on top of the $300 billion from the IRS deferrals. Now let me just say: This is a combination of loans, this is a combination of direct checks to individuals, this is a combination of creating liquidity for small businesses."

The request comes as a number of lawmakers call for a quick solution for some of the country's increasingly dire economic concerns. There is growing bipartisan agreement around the need to speed direct cash aid to individuals and families.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is calling for any new aid package to meet three criteria: assist individuals and families with financial challenges, secure the country's economy and economic foundation, and ready the health care system and support medical professionals.

"We're going to work here in warp speed for the Senate, which almost never does anything quickly," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. "These are not ordinary times, this is not an ordinary situation, so it requires extraordinary measures."

McConnell said he plans to work with the White House to reach consensus among Republicans before turning to Democrats to ink a final deal.

The talks are expected to move swiftly. Mnuchin told reporters after a meeting with Senate Republicans that the first concern must be about speeding relief to individuals, families and businesses, and not about the deficit or other long-term issues.

"Congress right now should be concerned about the American workers," Mnuchin said. "In different times, we'll fix the deficit. This is not the time to worry about it."

Republican senators expressed widespread support for the concept of cash payments following the lunch with Mnuchin, but many critical details of how the money will be allocated and to whom still need to be addressed.

The Senate is preparing to vote first on a smaller relief bill that has already been approved in the House. That legislation includes paid sick and family leave for some workers, extended unemployment benefits, and emergency funds for food security programs.

There had been some discussion about holding up the House measure to wait until the broader economic stimulus plan was crafted, but McConnell said that won't be the case. He suggested that despite some unease among members of his party to approve the measure, it should be approved.

"Gag and vote for it anyways, even if you think there's some shortcomings," he said of his advice for those GOP members.

The top Senate Republican also committed to the Senate remaining in session to pass broader relief.

"It is my intention that the Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps, above and beyond what the House passed, to help our strong nation and our strong underlying economy weather this storm," McConnell said.

House leaders were forced to approve a lengthy technical correction to its legislation Monday. McConnell has predicted bipartisan support to pass that bill in the Senate but noted on Tuesday the need for "a broader package that includes more and broader small business relief."

McConnell has already said that he is in touch with the chairmen of eight committees about additional legislation that will be required and that bipartisanship will be key. The next steps entail providing financial aid to individuals, shoring up small businesses and protecting the health care system.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., jump-started specifics for a comprehensive new plan, proposing a $750 billion to raise funding for unemployment insurance, coronavirus treatment and emergency child care assistance. The plan also includes student loan and housing payment assistance, aid to small businesses and expansion of hospital and treatment capacity.

The price tag eclipses the first emergency coronavirus aid bill of roughly $8 billion approved earlier this month to address response efforts. Late Monday, the House sent a second bill to address paid sick leave and testing to the Senate.

"We need big, bold, immediate federal action to deal with the crisis. The kinds of targeted measures we are putting together will mainline money into the economy and directly into the hands of families that need it most," Schumer said on the Senate floor in outlining the plans. "Importantly, this proposal will ensure that our medical professionals have the resources — including physical space and equipment — they need to provide treatment and keep Americans safe."

The talks came on the same day the stock market shed nearly 3,000 points in its biggest daily decline in more than 30 years and President Trump's administration announced stringent guidelines to tighten public gatherings to 10 people or less. After news of the latest proposals emerged the markets did rebound some.

Several senators had already released proposals for direct cash payments before the White House announcement. For example, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney says the government should immediately issue $1,000 to every American so families can manage short-term obligations. He's also proposing small business grants, aid for higher education students and deferring student loan payments for new graduates.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton released a separate plan Tuesday modeled on economic relief that was approved in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.

His broader proposal includes a tax-rebate check of $1,000 for every adult tax filer making less than $100,000 per year and $500 for each dependent. Married couples making less than $200,000 per year would be eligible for a $2,000 rebate.

The House, meanwhile, remains on a planned recess this week, which could be extended. Pelosi, who returned to her home state of California on Saturday, urged members to allow as many staff as possible to telecommute in the interim.

The furious pace of proposals comes as the spreading virus continues to pose a direct threat to Capitol building operations, as several lawmakers' offices remain closed as a result of at least two coronavirus cases among current D.C-based Hill staffers.

So far, no elected member of Congress has disclosed testing positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by novel coronavirus. However, at least two Republican senators — Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida — remain under self-quarantine after exposure to individuals who tested positive. And over recent days, at least four lawmaker offices have disclosed coronavirus exposure.

NPR's Ayesha Rascoe contributed to this report

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