HomeWhite House coronavirus plan aims to send $2,000 to many Americans, includes $300 billion for small businessesBusinessWhite House coronavirus plan aims to send $2,000 to many Americans, includes $300 billion for small businesses

White House coronavirus plan aims to send $2,000 to many Americans, includes $300 billion for small businesses

Treasury would determine the interest rates and other terms of any loans, but they would include limits “on increases in executive compensation until repayment of the loans.”

White House officials have scrambled in recent days to assemble a massive rescue plan as large parts of the U.S. economy show signs of buckling. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Republican senators on Tuesday that the unemployment rate could skyrocket to 20 percent, a level President Trump said Wednesday would be “an absolute worst-case scenario.” J.P. Morgan Chase analysts on Wednesday predicted that the economy will shrink by 14 percent between April and June, the worst contraction in Post-World War II history.

“People want to go big,” Trump said at a press conference when asked about the size of the direct payments to Americans. “Everybody seems to want to go big and they want to get to the recovery.”

The Dow Jones industrial average has fallen 10,000 points in a month, including more than 1,900 points in midday trading on Wednesday. It is now at a lower level than in January 2017, when Trump took office.

The White House will still need backing from Democrats before any plan can be pushed into law, but many Democrats have said they would support sending cash payments to Americans who are struggling to pay bills because of the virus’s economic impact. Still, multiple levels of negotiations remain. The senior administration officials spoke on condition of anonymity because talks remain ongoing.

The White House is also looking for Congress to allow it to temporarily backstop money market mutual funds, a sign that government officials are worried that an investor panic could lead to a run on these funds. A similar structure was used during the Great Recession, but lawmakers had sought to block its future use. In a sign of the flurry of federal government activity to address the spiraling economic fallout, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency took steps to halt all foreclosures in the United States for a period of time.

The White House’s evolving spending plan could be unprecedented in its size and velocity, dwarfing the $800 billion stimulus law passed during the Obama administration and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program enacted during the Bush administration. All told, between several legislative packages advanced on Capitol Hill and actions the administration is taking on its own, the federal government is at “over $2 trillion and counting” on fiscal interventions to halt or slow the economic wrecking ball of the coronavirus, one of the senior administration officials said.

The Senate was preparing to vote Wednesday to pass an earlier coronavirus rescue bill: House-passed legislation from last week that spends around $100 billion on paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, free coronavirus testing and more. A number of Senate Republicans voiced concerns about the sick leave program in the bill, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) advised them to vote for it anyway and make any needed changes in the new bill.

The new $1 trillion Trump plan would seek to spend $500 billion towards the cash payments to individual Americans, though some people wouldn’t qualify if their income is over a certain level. The Treasury Department outline says the funds would be paid out in two equal amounts, beginning on April 6 and then again on May 18.

“Payment amounts would be fixed and tiered based on income level and family size,” the Treasury letter said.

The White House discussions with Republicans would aim to spend another $50 billion to help rescue the airline industry and $150 billion to prop up other sectors, which could include hotels, among others. Some Democrats have raised concerns about how these funds might be used and have called for putting restrictions on firms that receive emergency assistance to assure that employees aren’t laid off while executives pocket large bonuses.

Trump said Wednesday that the exact sums were in flux as negotiations progressed on Capitol Hill.

“We’re coming up with numbers. Haven’t gotten there yet, but certainly the hotel industry, cruise ship industry, the airlines — those are all prime candidates,” said Trump. It’s unclear if the president’s own hotels could stand to benefit from any such bailout.

McConnell pledged Wednesday that the Senate would stay in session until the legislation is complete. He is aiming to reach agreement with the administration, then commence negotiations with Democrats.

“The Congress has an enormous role to play in responding to this challenge. We are determined to do that duty,” McConnell said.

The approach being taken by McConnell and the administration of negotiating among themselves and then looking for Democratic buy-in irritated some Democrats. It stands in contrast to how the last coronavirus bill was negotiated, when McConnell stood on the sidelines as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) worked directly with Mnuchin.

“It’s a totally partisan approach. … That, to me, sends absolutely the wrong signal to the American public that we’re actually trying to function and put the country first,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Some bipartisan talks were already under way, though, as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) worked on small business provisions with Democratic colleagues.

At the same time, the virus itself was hitting closer and closer to home in the Capitol, where Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) announced he was becoming the latest senator to self-quarantine after being in contact with an infected individual. McConnell announced Wednesday a new process for voting aimed at lengthening the time for votes so senators don’t congregate in the well of the Senate.

One of the goals of the White House’s decision to seek $300 billion for small businesses in the plan would be to help firms continue paying employees, as there has already been a wave of layoffs, particularly at restaurants and other companies where business was suddenly halted as millions of Americans began staying at home under government warnings about contagion.

These credits, which Treasury is calling “Small Business Interruption Loans,” would come with a 100 percent government guarantee. Eligible borrowers would have 500 or fewer employees, and the loan amounts would be targeted to finance six weeks of payroll, capped at $1,540 per week per employee. The loans would come from U.S. financial companies but would have U.S. government backing. The Treasury Department would have the power to issue regulations about interest rates and loan maturities.

The package doesn’t, at this point, include some of the big tax cuts that President Trump had sought only a few days ago. White House officials pivoted away from the tax cuts after Democrats and Republicans largely panned the idea, and Trump expressed concern that it would take too long for these benefits to filter through to the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average has fallen more than 9,000 points in one month. Many businesses and schools are closed, and Americans have cancelled travel plans as many avoid unneeded social contact. There are now more than 6,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States, and more than 1,000 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday. Economic and health disruptions are expected to last for months.

The White House is also sending Congress a separate emergency funding request for $46 billion for “ongoing preparedness and response efforts” to the coronavirus. This would include new funding for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

–Paul Kane and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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