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 Thune (R-S.D.). “Just vetting all the different ideas and proposals probably takes a while.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has established task forces and given them a deadline of Thursday to put together their components of the stimulus package, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is working on small business relief provisions.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “I hope we get something done next week — early next week would be my goal.”

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 Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Richard Burr (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.

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 Mnuchin received from GOP senators at a Tuesday meeting. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (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 Murray (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.

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 Graham (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 Johnson (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.  

Tags Chuck Grassley Coronavirus John Cornyn John Thune Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Richard Burr Richard Shelby Ron Johnson Steven Mnuchin Stimulus Package

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