WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump urged Congress Tuesday to work with him on a “big, bold” stimulus package to counter the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic and backed the idea of sending cash to Americans to help them pay their bills.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s lead negotiator with Congress for the rescue package, said it could pour $1 trillion into the U.S. economy. As health officials advise Americans to practice “social distancing” to prevent contagion, there have been widespread flight cancellations, school closures and shutdowns of bars, restaurants and shopping malls. The economic forecasts have grown increasing dire, and Trump said Monday that the economy “may be” headed for a recession.
“We’re going big,” Trump said. Trump had initially proposed a payroll tax holiday, but many lawmakers, including some in the GOP, expressed skepticism about that idea, saying it wouldn’t help workers who lose their jobs because of the coronavirus shutdown or those who can’t work because they lack child care. Trump also said the government should help the airlines weather the crisis.
“We don’t want airlines going out of business or people losing their jobs and not having money to live,” Trump said at a news conference.
To help workers and families cope with the dispruptions, Mnuchin said one option under consideration is sending checks directly to Americans. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has proposed cutting $1,000 checks for all American adults.
“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said, although he did not say how big those checks might be.
Mnuchin said the measures under consideration are “stuff that needs to be done now.”
The administration pitched the economic stimulus package while the Senate considers a House-passed bill aimed at providing paid sick leave, among other initiatives.
Many senators are looking at the possibility of approving the House bill and then beginning work right away on a larger package, although there’s some talk of melding the elements of the House package with bigger steps such as sending checks to American households.
For the moment, many Senate Republicans are setting aside worries about the deficit impact of the package, which could reach $1 trillion or more.
“Well, I’m about as conservative fiscally as you can be,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “This would not be the first preference of anybody. But then it wasn’t the first preference of anybody that some of our people got sick. So we’ve got to deal with it, and this is not a time to be cheap.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY. has unveiled a proposal to spend $750 billion to address a number of sectors, including emergency child care for health care workers and first responders; medicine and food delivery systems for seniors; and assistance to keep public transportation running.
U.S. stocks stabilized after the Trump administration said it planned financial support for an airline industry devastated by the pandemic. The gains follow the market’s worst sell-off in more than three decades on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 both rose sharply Tuesday after suffering their worst day since the “Black Monday” stock market crash of 1987.
Meanwhile, Trump announced the expansion of telehealth services for those on Medicare, noting that patients who are ill with the coronavirus would be able to access any doctor “at no additional cost.”
Trump also met Tuesday with members of the fast-food industry, which he said has promised to keep drive-thru lines open even as dine-in service has been shut down at many eateries across the country. Mnuchin stressed that many fast-food chains have mobile apps that will allow consumers to order food ahead of time.
“We expect they will be able to feed a large part of the population,” he said.
Trump urged Americans to remain vigilant – to stay home as much as possible and limit gatherings to 10 people – for at least two more weeks.
“We have to fight that invisible enemy, I guess unknown, but we are getting to know it quickly,” he said. “One day we will be standing up here and be saying, ‘Well, we won.'”
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– Contributing: Courtney Subramanian