WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate was scrambling on Thursday to hammer out details of a $1 trillion-plus package to stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, a crisis that has sparked a rare moment of bipartisanship.
FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the news media while walking into his office, as Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a State of Emergency due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to introduce the stimulus bill on Thursday, but a vote appears to be days away, a senior Republican lawmaker said.
“We’ll have a bill ready. Senator McConnell will introduce it today. I hope we can work with our Democratic counterparts over the next couple of days to come to a conclusion and pass it,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told reporters.
McConnell said earlier that the bill eagerly sought by President Donald Trump’s administration would include direct financial assistance to Americans, lending to key industries including airlines, and money for more medical equipment.
“These are not ordinary policies. This is no ordinary time,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We have to beat back this virus.”
The package is the third taken up by Congress since the coronavirus erupted in the United States, killing more than 150 people, shutting schools, businesses and wide swaths of American life, and sending the stock market into a tailspin.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said whatever package is developed must include a “massive infusion of resources” for hospitals, and there must be worker protections in any industry bailouts.
As for the prospect of direct cash payments to individual Americans, Schumer said they needed to be “bigger, more generous, and more frequent” than he had heard Republicans describe.
Trump sharply changed his tone on the risks posed by the virus this week, after long downplaying them, and has talked about sending Americans $1,000 checks.
Senator Kevin Cramer, a Trump ally, said Republicans were weighing maximum payments of $1,200 to people making $75,000 a year or less.
Some other Republicans were not so keen on the idea.
“Just a blanket cash check to everybody in America that’s making up to $75,000? I don’t know the logic of that,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby.
Cramer also said the economic stimulus package was likely to rely on loans, not grants, to the airline industry.
McConnell said the Senate would remain in session until it finishes the legislation and sends it to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Once both houses pass the bill, it would then pass to Trump to be signed into law.
House leaders, meanwhile, are trying to work out new voting procedures that would allow them to reconvene without endangering members after Utah Democrat Ben McAdams and Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart tested positive for the virus.
Several other House lawmakers, including Republican whip Steve Scalise, were in self-quarantine after having been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote to lawmakers telling them they would not be called back into session until they needed to vote on the legislation, and that the House would adjust its voting procedures so that fewer people would be on the chamber’s floor at any one time.
Congress passed an $8.3 billion measure earlier this month to combat the coronavirus outbreak and develop vaccines for the highly contagious disease.
On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed another $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage through free testing, paid sick leave, and expanded safety-net spending.
For the third package lawmakers are working on now, the Trump administration has proposed a stimulus in the range of $1.3 trillion. This would include $500 billion in direct payments to Americans, $300 billion for small businesses, $50 billion in loans for cash-strapped airlines, and $150 billion for loan guarantees to other distressed economic sectors.
Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien