U.S. lawmakers pushing ahead with third coronavirus aid package
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[March 19, 2020]
By Richard Cowan and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers were
rushing ahead on Thursday with forging a massive economic stimulus
measure to counter the destructive impact of the coronavirus, with the
Senate's leader vowing not to let the chamber adjourn until the mission
Although a few lawmakers expressed doubts about the yawning sums under
discussion, with one Republican warning this week against "shoveling
money out of a helicopter," the Senate's majority Republicans said they
hoped to have a proposal agreed on with President Donald Trump's
administration by sometime on Thursday.
Only then did they plan to start negotiations with Democrats. Top
Democrats said that was backward. Both House of Representatives Speaker
Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the fastest
route to finishing a package would be to have the leaders of both
parties and chambers in talks with the White House.
Schumer has proposed his own $750 million plan of action that would
expand jobless benefits, help small businesses and fund childcare for
The Trump administration is pushing for a package of some $1.3 trillion
in aid to help businesses and individual Americans devastated by the
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the Senate
would remain in session until it finishes the legislation and sends it
to the House. "I would recommend senators stay around, close," he said
on the Senate floor. "We are moving rapidly because the situation
Congress already passed an $8.3 billion measure earlier this month to
combat the spread of the new coronavirus and develop vaccines for the
highly contagious disease that has infected almost 8,000 people in the
United States and killed at least 145. The outbreak has paralyzed large
sectors of the U.S. economy and led to fears of a global recession.
On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed another $105
billion-plus plan to limit the damage from the coronavirus pandemic
through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending.
The new stimulus plan under discussion could include $500 billion in
direct payments to Americans, possibly in the form of two rounds of
checks that Trump said could amount to $1,000 each.
The strategy, as outlined in a Treasury Department memo, also would
provide $300 billion for small businesses, $50 billion in loans for
cash-strapped airlines and $150 billion for loan guarantees to other
distressed economic sectors.
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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.
Two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Susan Collins, said the
$300 billion for small businesses would be in federally guaranteed
loans that could be converted into grants to help keep staff
employed and meet customary expenses such as utility costs and lease
They said the aim was to sustain otherwise thriving restaurants,
bars, gift shops, hotels and other operations that have been hit
hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“If we do not act to help the small-business sector, I predict that
we will see massive layoffs and an inordinate number of small
businesses shutting their doors. They simply won’t be able to
survive,” Collins said, adding: "My hope is that we will pass it
sometime this weekend."
But senators in both parties expressed concern about rushing into
"bailouts" of distressed industries. Senator Ben Sasse, the
Republican who gave the warning about shoveling money out of a
helicopter, said there was a dangerous "herd mentality" developing
in Washington. He was one of eight Republicans who voted against the
$105 billion-plus aid bill on Wednesday.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley told reporters that he opposed
industry bailouts but might support loans that were fully backed by
company assets. "Now if it’s a loan secured by collateral that will
be paid back in full and has very strict conditions, maybe," Hawley
The Trump administration also asked Congress for an additional $45.8
billion to shore up U.S. government agencies responding to the
In a step aimed at limiting the spread of the virus among the
lawmakers themselves, McConnell began doubling the amount of time to
vote to limit the number of members in the chamber at any one time.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Writing by Susan
Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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