WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is asking Congress to unleash a torrent of emergency economic aid to help people through the financial pain of the coronavirus crisis, with sizable checks directly to Americans as part of the deal.
Trump wants checks out to the public within two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said March 17 as state and local officials acted more forcefully to restrict gatherings and mobility in the face of growing sickness.
“The president has instructed me we have to do this now,” he said.
The proposal to send checks requires approval from Congress. Details were scant, except Mnuchin said the yet-to-be disclosed amount should be significant and millionaires won’t get it.
“We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly,” Mnuchin said. After a savage drop March 16, the stock market rose during the briefing at which Trump and his aides sketched out elements of the economic rescue package.
Mnuchin was pitching the roughly $850 billion package to Senate Republicans at a private lunch, with officials aiming to have Congress approve it this week. Some lawmakers were skeptical.
“I’m going to be very leery of doing something like in 2008,” said Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun.
But the other senator from Indiana, Todd Young, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, said he was open to approving $1,000 checks and wants aid out the door as as soon as possible. He said he was the only passenger on his flight back to Washington.
Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised swift action of some sort.
“The Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps above and beyond what the House has passed to help our strong nation and our strong underlying economy weather this storm,” McConnell said.
Bigger than the 2008 bank bailout or the 2009 recovery act, the White House proposal aims to provide a massive tax cut for wage-earners, $50 billion for the airline industry and $250 billion for small businesses.
Two people familiar with the request described it to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, spoke by phone with Mnuchin in the morning. The Democrats “emphasized that protecting workers’ paychecks and benefits was their top priority, and that immediate action was needed,” said Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman.
Congress was being asked to approve the most far-reaching economic rescue package since the Great Recession of 2008.
“There’s great spirit” among lawmakers, President Donald Trump said at the White House briefing as he outlined several elements of the rescue plan. “I can say that for Republicans and Democrats.”
But it’s an enormous political and economic undertaking as a slow-moving Congress tries to rise to the occasion of these fast times.
The debate is sure to revive the sharp divisions over the costly bank bailout and economic recovery of the Obama and Bush era. Particularly striking is McConnell’s urgency after having adjourned the Senate over the weekend while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi muscled through an aid package.
Angry senators from both parties boarded planes returning to a changed Washington, as Trump declared a state of emergency, the virus spread and the economic free-fall worsened. Despite federal guidelines against so many people gathering, senators had no choice but to convene. Legislating cannot be done from home. The House is on a recess.
The White House hopes the measure will pass quickly, possibly this week, an enormous political undertaking as the administration scrambled to contain the economic fallout of the severe disruptions to American life from the outbreak.
The rush to inject cash and resources into the economy is an effort unlike any since the 2008 economic crisis, with political and economic interventions and eye-popping sums to try to protect Americans from the health and financial fallout.
The new proposal is beyond the House’s estimated $100 billion aid package of sick pay, emergency food aid and free virus testing that was approved over the weekend and is pending before the Senate.
Now Congress will be rushing to pass two — a massive, sweeping response to the virus outbreak that is rewriting America’s way of life.
Muscling the aid will test Congress and the White House at a pivotal moment in the crisis and in an election year when the two parties have vastly different outlooks on the best way to prop up the economy and help Americans.
Senate Democrats have proposed their own $750 billion package — boosting hospital capacity and unemployment checks for the suddenly jobless — with deep negotiations to come.
All sides — the House, Senate and White House — agree more federal resources are needed to handle what’s coming.
At the start of the month, Congress approved $8.3 billion in initial aid. Trump quickly signed into law the measure, which provided federal agencies money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments, and funding to help state and local governments respond to the threat.
During the recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed in February of that year, had an initial price tag of $787 billion which was revised later to $831 billion. That was under Barack Obama.
The TARP passed in the fall of 2008 to help troubled banks had a price tag of $700 billion. It was put together by the George W. Bush administration, and provided money for the auto bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler. All of that money for the banks and the auto companies was paid back.
Now, Republicans often reluctant to spend federal dollars did not flinch at the head-spinning number, as a roster of America’s big and small industries — airlines, hotels, retailers — lined up for aid.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called for sending $1,000 to every adult American — an idea the White House now is proposing, though not necessarily that sum.
Industries representing a broad swath of the economy are seeking help in withstanding the fallout as schools close and Americans are being told they should stay inside, skip nonessential travel and avoid gatherings with 10 people or more.
That means no dining out, no boarding planes, no shopping the malls as a great national shutdown sparks business closures, layoffs and lost paychecks for rents, mortgages and everyday needs.
The nation’s largest business organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked the Trump administration and Congress on March 16 to act rapidly to help companies have access to cash and avert a “potentially devastating” hit to the economy.
The request from the U.S. airlines alone could easily top $50 billion, according to Airlines for America, the trade group representing the carriers.
Pulling together the new package will challenge the basic logistics of governing as Congress itself struggled to adapt to the new normal.
House Democrats were told on a conference call they won’t be recalled to Washington until the next package is ready for action, according to people familiar with the call but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Martin Crutsinger, Colleen Long and Kevin Freking in Washington, Philip Marcelo in Boston and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.