Trump wants quick checks sent to public in virus response

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is asking Congress to unleash a torrent of emergency economic aid to help people through the financial pain of the coronavirus crisis, with sizable checks directly to Americans as part of the deal.

Trump wants checks out to the public within two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday as state and local officials acted more forcefully to restrict gatherings and mobility in the face of growing sickness. “The president has instructed me we have to do this now.”

The proposal to send checks requires approval from Congress. Details were scant, except Mnuchin said the yet-to-be disclosed amount should be significant and millionaires won’t get it.

“We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly,” Mnuchin said. After a savage drop Monday, the stock market rose during the briefing at which Trump and his aides sketched out elements of the economic rescue package.

Mnuchin was pitching the roughly $850 billion package to Senate Republicans at a private lunch, with officials aiming to have Congress approve it this week. Some lawmakers were skeptical. “I’m going to be very leery of doing something like in 2008,” said Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun.

But the other senator from Indiana, Todd Young, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, said he was open to approving $1,000 checks and wants aid out the door as as soon as possible. He said he was the only passenger on his flight back to Washington.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised swift action of some sort.

“The Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps above and beyond what the House has passed to help our strong nation and our strong underlying economy weather this storm,” McConnell said.

Bigger than the 2008 bank bailout or the 2009 recovery act, the White House proposal aims to provide a massive tax cut for wage-earners, $50 billion for the airline industry and $250 billion for small businesses.

Two people familiar with the request described it to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, spoke by phone with Mnuchin in the morning. The Democrats “emphasized that protecting workers’ paychecks and benefits was their top priority, and that immediate action was needed,” said Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman.

Congress was being asked to approve the most far-reaching economic rescue package since the Great Recession of 2008.

“There’s great spirit” among lawmakers, President Donald Trump said at the White House briefing as he outlined several elements of the rescue plan. “I can say that for Republicans and Democrats.”

But it’s an enormous political and economic undertaking as a slow-moving Congress tries to rise to the occasion of these fast times.

The debate is sure to revive the sharp divisions over the costly bank bailout and economic recovery of the Obama and Bush era. Particularly striking is McConnell’s urgency after having adjourned the Senate over the weekend while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi muscled through an aid package.

Angry senators from both parties boarded planes returning to a changed Washington, as Trump declared a state of emergency, the virus spread and the economic free-fall worsened. Despite federal guidelines against so many people gathering, senators had no choice but to convene. Legislating cannot be done from home. The House is on a recess.

The White House hopes the measure will pass quickly, possibly this week, an enormous political undertaking as the administration scrambled to contain the economic fallout of the severe disruptions to American life from the outbreak.

The rush to inject cash and resources into the economy is an effort unlike any since the 2008 economic crisis, with political and economic interventions and eye-popping sums to try to protect Americans from the health and financial fallout.

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Photo: (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Reprinted courtesy of the Associated Press