America (Channel TT): U.S. Capitol hill Washington D.C is mobilizing to rescue the country from potentially disastrous economic consequences from the global coronavirus outbreak, with the Senate on Wednesday passing a multi-billion dollar emergency package and quickly getting to work on a larger stimulus agreement.
With Senate leaders vowing to work at “warp speed” to blunt the financial fallout from the pandemic, the Treasury Department unveiled to lawmakers a plan for $250 billion in direct payments to Americans starting April 6.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were inching closer on Wednesday to unveiling their proposal for a third, even larger stimulus package to address the epidemic, which is likely to include some of Treasury's ideas.
The Senate’s approval Wednesday of the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” comes as Republican senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed the House bill, which grants paid sick leave to hourly employees and expands unemployment insurance.
“It is a well-intentioned bipartisan product assembled by House Democrats and President Trump’s team that tries to stand up and expand some new relief measures for American workers,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said of the House bill, which House lawmakers passed early Saturday and later approved technical corrections on Monday.
Despite “real shortcomings” in the legislation, McConnell said, “in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers.”
Earlier Wednesday, the White House sent a proposal to the Senate with a list of potential policy options discussed at a meeting the previous day, a senior administration official said.
According to the Treasury Department’s proposal, a copy of which was obtained by mainstream media, the so-called “phase three” proposal would include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program.
The document notably does not mention a payroll tax cut, which President Donald Trump has suggested he wanted to be included in the package. But the idea lost steam in recent days as lawmakers from both parties rejected the idea, citing the need to grant immediate, large-scale relief.
“There are a lot of steps along the way here, but I think everybody has the motivation to get to a solution as quickly as possible,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “There are lots of wheels in motion — hopefully driving in the right direction.”
As the coronavirus spreads across the country and the stock market continues to plunge, there is widespread recognition that the Senate needs to act swiftly and assist individuals as well as small businesses as part of the massive aid package expected to be unveiled in the coming days.
McConnell has been adamant that the Senate will not leave Washington until it passes the “phase three” package. McConnell created three so-called “task forces” to come up with specific proposals to assist small businesses as they deal with the plummeting demand that comes with the lockdown orders in several cities across the country.
At Senate Republicans’ lunch meeting on Wednesday, members of each task force presented the proposals they are working on, according to an attendee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) discussed direct payments to Americans, which could potentially include an income cap. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talked about his small business proposal and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) discussed the deferment of student loans — potentially for up to three months, the attendee said.
In a sign of the personal precautions members are taking against the coronavirus, McConnell urged his colleagues to avoid congregating on the Senate floor and to leave the chamber as soon as each of them voted on Wednesday.
While no lawmaker reportedly has contracted the virus, several senators have self-quarantined after possible exposure. At least one Senate staffer has tested positive for the coronavirus.