Senate GOP racing the clock to draft stimulus package

Republican senators are scrambling to put together a $1 trillion fiscal stimulus package before a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs sends the economy into a tailspin.

Senior GOP lawmakers say negotiations will likely stretch into next week given the massive size and complexity of the legislation and competing ideas over how to distribute the aid.

“We’re trying accelerate everything and put it together quickly but by the time we get into negotiations with the Democrats, I assume it pushes through the weekend,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (R-S.D.). “Just vetting all the different ideas and proposals probably takes a while.

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Senior Republicans met in small groups throughout Wednesday morning to begin putting together the outlines of a fiscal stimulus bill that would funnel hundreds of billions directly into the economy, which is now projected to contract over the first six months of 2020.

Senate Republican leaders have been in touch with each other throughout the day by phone and rank-and-file members will get an update on the latest discussions at lunch Wednesday.

Lawmakers are debating various proposals to help American families facing an immediate cash crunch, people who are forced to miss work because of the coronavirus, small businesses and major industries facing a sharp loss in revenue, including U.S. airlines, hotels and restaurant chains.

Senate Republicans have assembled four task forces to put together the stimulus package: one focused on health issues, another focused on tax policy, a third dedicated to rescuing small business and a fourth tasked with putting together an aid package for major industries, such as the airlines.

A group of senior lawmakers including Thune, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Biden confronts sinking poll numbers Congress needs to push for more accountability in gymnasts' tragic sex abuse MORE (R-Iowa), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam MORE (R-N.C.), met Wednesday morning to begin drawing up the portion of the stimulus package dealing with health issues.

“We’re trying to gather our ideas in the area of health, education and labor, which is our committee, that would help states and local governments and institutions stop the spread of the disease,” Alexander said after the meeting.

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He said his colleagues are looking at proposals to ramp up the manufacture of protective equipment, to support wider testing and to accelerate the development of treatments for people sickened by the coronavirus.

Alexander said he wants to include these health-related provisions in the phase three stimulus bill, even though Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus package, which focused on combating the spread of the disease, earlier this month.

Senate Republicans also want to take fast action to keep major airlines from going out of business during the crisis.

“We need airplanes that can fly,” Alexander said.

The Treasury Department has proposed creating a $50 billion loan program for U.S. passenger and cargo carriers.

The administration has rejected airline requests for nearly $30 billion in grants, a reflection of the pushback Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE received from GOP senators at a Tuesday meeting. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.) said there was strong opposition to simply making grants to U.S. airlines to keep them in business.

Republican senators say the hotel and restaurant industries will also need economic relief, along with the airlines.

“There are a great many industries that need relief, including hospitality and restaurants,” said Alexander, adding that it hasn’t yet been decided whether to provide that assistance in phase three or wait for a later economic aid package.

Democrats on Wednesday complained about being cut out of the early stage of negotiations and warned it could slow down how quickly assistance can be distributed to families, businesses and local governments.

“This is a crisis. Everybody says we need to act urgently. If they put together a partisan package and it can’t pass the House or gets tied up over here, that helps no one,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTexas abortion law creates 2022 headache for GOP Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Faith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic MORE (Wash.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Committee.

Murray said Republicans had not reached out to her yet.

One of the thorniest problems facing Senate negotiators is how to boost the broader economy and protect individuals and families who may not be able to meet short-term financial obligations, such as rent and mortgage payments.

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The Treasury Department has circulated a memo proposing to send two $1,000 checks to American adults below a certain income threshold — which would cost an estimated $500 billion.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) has called that idea “money wasted.”

“It won’t help the economy just throwing money at a problem,” Graham said after meeting with Mnuchin on Tuesday. “I don’t know why giving a thousand dollars on top of their paycheck makes any sense now because there’s no economy to participate in. I’d rather take that money and shore up health care systems.”

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.) said Wednesday he’s concerned about the sheer size of the proposed stimulus package and “how it’s being spent.”

“We want to spend it as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said.

The Treasury Department has also requested $250 billion to help small businesses and up to $150 billion for other distressed industries, according to a memo circulated Wednesday.