(WASHINGTON) — Capitol Hill — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that his Republicans would move at “warp speed” to craft a $1 trillion economic stimulus package, and it appears they are doing just that.
GOP senators say they expect the outlines of a bill to be presented to leadership Thursday morning, and two senior GOP senators predicted that a vote could happen as early as this weekend, though that seems incredibly ambitious given that Democrats are only just being brought into the process.
Still, Sen. McConnell indicated that a vote could come fairly quickly, warning Wednesday that senators should not venture far from the Capitol.
The GOP leader created three task forces modeled on the broad pieces of the administration’s $1 trillion proposal unveiled Tuesday.
Senators are focusing on small business aid, airline assistance, and economic relief-related proposals, including assistance for the embattled health care industry.
“Republicans hope, shortly, to have a consolidated position, along with the administration, and we intend to sit down with our Democratic colleagues, see what we can agree to, and I would recommend that senators stay around, close,” said McConnell in a Senate floor speech Wednesday afternoon.
But crafting legislation always takes time, particularly complicated, large packages like this one and in a chamber that is narrowly divided among 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats where any final vote must garner the support of 60 members to pass. That gives Democrats leverage in any bipartisan talks.
“You still got to write it up, and, you got to pass it,” John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, cautioned reporters. “In the end, you got to get House support, get administration support. There’s a lot of steps along the way here, but I think everybody has the motivation to get to a solution as quickly as possible and that’s helping.”
One thing that does appear to be on the side of swift action — legislative action during past crises is providing formulas for what’s happening now, like the federal infusion for airlines after the September 11th attacks devastated the industry and the 2008 recession that led to stimulus checks for Americans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading efforts on behalf of the administration, has already reached out multiple times to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer this week in an effort to smooth the way, with aides to both leaders saying that the focus was on worker relief.
Sen. Schumer, D-N.Y., who unveiled a $750 billion Democratic stimulus proposal on Tuesday that speeds targeted aid to the health sector, expands unemployment insurance, aid to small businesses, and focuses assistance for child care and seniors, is expected to push for components of that plan in any bipartisan deal.
But there does appear to be overlap in proposals by each party.
Sens. Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham said Republicans are also working on expanding unemployment insurance.
Romney, R-Utah, called for substantially increasing unemployment insurance “such that individuals who are unemployed and go to get unemployment insurance payments, don’t just get the usual $375. But they get something much more substantial…so that we’re able to keep people whole or nearly whole if they become unemployed.”
“I want people to know that you’re not going to be left without income,” said Graham, R-SC, who does not favor the $1,000 stimulus checks proposed by the Administration Tuesday. “The unemployment system that exists is woefully inadequate for the circumstance that we’re under. It was never designed for a pandemic. So we need to come up with an unemployment insurance structure that deals with layoffs due to a pandemic.”
Small businesses already devastated by the virus’ repercussions on the economy, could end up being crushed under the paid family and sick leave mandates in the just-passed stimulus bill that President Trump signed Wednesday, and lawmakers are anxious to speed relief to them in this current stimulus legislation.
“I think there’s broad, general agreement that small businesses will not be able to survive,” Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio said.
Rubio, who is leading the small business GOP task force, is nearly finished with a $300 billion proposal that would provide federally-guaranteed loans to businesses to “help them meet payroll and operating obligations” for roughly six weeks. At the end of the six week period, or possibly eight weeks, the loan would be forgiven if it had been used to help workers, as was intended.
“We want to make sure that businesses that otherwise would be thriving and doing well, make it through this pandemic that we are enduring. We want to make sure their employees make it through this pandemic,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is working alongside Rubio on the task force.
Collins warned, “If we do not act to help the small business sector, I predict we will see massive layoffs and an inordinate number of small businesses shuttering their doors. They simply won’t be able to survive.”
One administration proposal that has bipartisan buy-in is the $1,000 checks potentially going out in two tranches worth about $500 billion. Depending on how swiftly Congress acts, that money could start going out in early April, though one senior Administration official said the checks would go out “no later than late April.”
If the country is still in a national emergency due to the pandemic, then the second round of checks would go out in early May.
Aid to the airline industry – a roughly $50 billion proposal — is an area of concern among many lawmakers, though none are saying they would oppose it at this point. The concern is that the money not go to those at the top of these businesses; rather, it should be sent to workers and those at the bottom who desperately need assistance.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is heading up the airline task force, and he has made clear that Congress will not be providing “bailouts” to the industry. None will be permitted to buy back stock to beef up their bottom lines, as was done in previous crisis.
The pressure is great for lawmakers to strike a deal now, and most seem ready to do that.
“If we cannot come together in a bipartisan way to form a response in a bipartisan way, then shame on us,” Collins added, saying she hopes the bill will pass “sometime this weekend.
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