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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday said it wanted to spend $ 500 billion in direct payments to Americans as the centerpiece of a $ 1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy as the coronavirus epidemic threatens economic collapse.
The details relate to the third coronavirus response bill that lawmakers hope to pass next week. Direct payments would be made only to US citizens and would be “phased in based on income level and family size.” The two payments would be identical, with the second wave starting on May 18.
The administration plan promises half of the $ 1,000 billion to families and individuals, with the other half used to support businesses and keep employees on the payroll. A $ 300 billion small business item championed by Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is part of the same “phase 3” package the Trump administration wants to push through Congress.
It all comes as the Senate passed a second coronavirus response bill on Wednesday, sending it to Trump. The general count of 90-8 came despite the reluctance of many Republicans towards a new temporary employer mandate to provide sick leave to victims of coronavirus. On the party side, Senate Republicans rejected a more radical Democratic amendment on sick leave.
The price tag for the Phase 3 economic package alone promises to exceed the US Treasury’s $ 1 trillion demand, an unprecedented bailout since the Great Recession. Trump is urging Congress to pass the mind-boggling stimulus package within days.
The Senate plans to remain in session until the passage of the third coronavirus bill, with possible weekend sessions. The House will have its own version and for now is not expected to return until Tuesday. A final compromise is unlikely to reach Trump’s office until the end of next week.
Economists say the country is probably already in a recession. The stock market continued its free fall on Wednesday. The panic has prompted lawmakers to shed their ideological baggage to tackle a huge business for a crisis beyond the reach of the 2008 financial panic – a week-long shutdown of many businesses and unemployment that could reach 20 %.
Wednesday’s legislation would speed up delivery of tests for the virus, grant workers paid sick leave and increase the state’s Medicaid budgets. The focus in Washington has already been on crafting a much larger response bill that would inject hundreds of billions of dollars into the faltering economy, relieve closed businesses, and help prevent airlines to fall back.
“I will not adjourn the Senate until we pass a much bolder package,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky said. “We don’t leave until we have delivered. “
But first, the Senate passed a package of more than $ 100 billion in sickness benefits, emergency food, and free testing, putting him back on track for Trump’s signing over Republicans’ objections. regarding the potential impact on small businesses facing a new mandate.
McConnell is trying to take charge of the third coronavirus effort, putting GOP chairmen in charge and promising to consult Senate Democrats later. Senatorial Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, lambasted McConnell’s approach, saying it is “too cumbersome, too partisan and will take way too long, given the urgency and the need for cooperation “.
Collins and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, are the main authors of part of the plan that would include $ 300 billion for “small business disruption loans” guaranteed by the federal government to cover six weeks of payroll for crisis. These loans would be made through private banks and canceled if employers kept their employees on the payroll.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Rubio and Collins said they were negotiating their proposal with Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the small business committee. The full text of the proposal is expected to be finalized on Wednesday, while Collins took no position on the stimulus portion of the Trump administration’s proposal.
“In fact, I would say if we can’t come together in a bipartisan fashion to form a response to such a serious threat to our public health and our economy, then shame on us,” Collins said.
The Trump administration’s plan would also establish a $ 50 billion loan program dedicated to the endangered airline industry, which would be required to continue to fly as a condition of obtaining the loan. An additional $ 150 billion would take out loans to other industries.
Economists doubted that a massive bailout would be enough to stop millions of job losses, even in the short term. The amount that would be sent in checks to Americans is not yet decided. The White House said it liked an idea from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for checks for $ 1,000, but not necessarily that amount and not for the richest people.
Senate Democrats have produced their own $ 750 billion proposal, including $ 400 billion to bolster hospitals and emergency operations in response to the global pandemic and $ 350 billion to strengthen the safety net with checks unemployment and other aid to Americans.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.