The emerging $1 trillion aid package intended to help weather the COVID-19 economic storm appears likely to deliver $1,000 to every U.S. adult, plus $500 per child, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a GOP senator involved in the drafting.
"So for a family of four, that's a $3,000 payment," Mnuchin told Fox Business on Thursday morning, adding that he thinks the checks would be sent within three weeks of enactment.
"That may change in negotiations with Democrats, but that's the priority right now," GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, confirming the basic structure of the plan under discussion.
Mnuchin said a second round of checks in the same amount would go out six weeks later if economic conditions haven't improved and the "national emergency" Trump declared last week is still in effect. Mnuchin said most households wouldn't have to worry about venturing to the bank to cash their checks and risk virus exposure: "It's really money direct-deposited, most people."
Those comments came as Senate Republicans continued to draft stimulus legislation that some lawmakers have said could get a floor vote as early as this weekend. "We're working with Democrats and Republicans and there's a lot of goodwill going on," President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference Thursday.
The stimulus checks were expected to cost roughly $500 billion, under an outline prepared by the Treasury Department, accounting for about half the cost of the aid package. The remainder would be a $300 billion small-business lending program, and $200 billion in loans and loan guarantees for "severely distressed" industries, with airlines in line for a $50 billion slice of that provided they adhere to certain restrictions, including on executive compensation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined the major elements of the bill Republicans are drafting, including expanded federal relief to small businesses. “We’re talking about new federally guaranteed loans on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars to address immediate cash-flow problems,” he said in a floor speech.
McConnell also endorsed the proposed cash payments to individuals, saying, “It’s not an ordinary policy, but this is no ordinary time.” And he called for “targeting lending to industries of national importance,” such as the airlines, while stressing that any loans would have to be repaid.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said any effort to shore up struggling industries must help “workers first.” He said Democrats want to ensure that employees are protected in any potential bailout of companies by prohibiting corporations from buying back stock, rewarding executives or laying off workers.
Trump suggested he would be willing to accept such conditions, while noting there are many people involved in drafting the bill. “It takes many, many people in this case to tango,” he said at the White House.
But the size of any stimulus checks to families could become a sticking point when Republicans present their draft plan to Democrats for negotiation. Schumer said any cash payments to individuals need to be “bigger, more generous and more frequent” than some of the GOP proposals he’s seen.
And he said those cash payments cannot be a substitute for the other Democratic priorities, including expanded paid leave and unemployment insurance for workers. “The pandemic requires bold, structural changes to our society safety net to give people a lifeline for months, not just weeks,” Schumer said.
Mnuchin and Romney said the small-business loan plan would include debt forgiveness for firms that keep people employed throughout the crisis.
Romney said the industry-specific credit facility will be "a great deal larger than just what’s needed for airlines." He added that "it’ll be for those enterprises that are larger that are in difficult circumstances. How many will qualify is a real question. But those enterprises that are really key to the economy, key to national security, key to our infrastructure, will surely be high on the list."
Romney also suggested the package could aid hospitals struggling with a surge in patients and a loss in revenue. He said the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is focused on making sure hospitals have enough face masks, test kits and the like.
"We've got a lot of hospitals that are closing down their elective surgeries. That's where they make their money," Romney said. "They're opening the doors to COVID-19 patients. So getting help there is the highest priority."
Democratic support needed
While the discussions have been among Senate Republicans and the White House for the most part thus far, Mnuchin has also held talks with Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Votes from Schumer's caucus will be needed to get over the Senate's 60-vote threshold, given Republicans number only 53 in that chamber and there could be GOP defections over what some might term a costly bailout.
Schumer told CNN on Wednesday night that when he spoke with Mnuchin he told him workers needed to come first before aid was delivered directly to employers.
"If there are going to be some of these corporate bailouts, we need to make sure workers and labor come first. That people are not laid off. That people's salaries are not cut," Schumer said.
He also suggested corporate stock buybacks should be limited in some form, pointing specifically to reports that U.S. airlines had repurchased $45 billion of their own shares over the last decade — nearly equaling the new aid package sought by the industry. When companies buy back shares, the money isn't available for hiring or investment in plant and equipment, though it drives up earnings per share and rewards shareholders.
The House, meanwhile, is in recess this week but was expected to return as soon as a Senate bill is passed. “The House will not return to session until we are in a position to vote on the third piece of emergency legislation to respond to the economic impact of this crisis," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said in a "Dear Colleague" letter Thursday.
Hoyer said the House will adjust its voting procedures to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for social distancing but that no decisions have been made on exactly what those changes will be. "We will be discussing all options," he said.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday night that the small business lending provisions had more bipartisan support than other pieces under discussion.
"We've had conversations about it," Cardin said. "I think many Republican senators realize that we really need to put our nation first, and it would be a major mistake to just come out with a partisan proposal. … There should be conversations."
Romney said those conversations will happen, it's just a matter of when.
"You've heard the expression in the law which is the wheels of justice grind slowly. Well, the wheels of Congress grind even slower. And so Mitch has cut through all this by organizing task forces to draft a package for review," he told Hewitt. "And that’s record speed for this institution. Now, of course, we've got to deal with our Democrat friends and see what they want to do and compromise and make something happen."
As soon as the stimulus measure is passed, McConnell said, the Senate would turn to an emergency White House appropriations request “so we can keep funding health care and other priorities.” The White House submitted a request for nearly $46 billion this week to fund programs in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.
But Democrats have already criticized the White House request as insufficient and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., suggested Thursday the measure the Senate takes up would be bigger. When asked if McConnell was referring strictly to the White House request, Shelby said, " “It’s referring to a lot of stuff that we might have to pick up. We’re thinking of a 4th [stimulus] package.”
Niels Lesniewski, Jennifer Shutt and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.