At a press briefing on March 17, Trump said that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was working with the Senate and the House on a package to provide relief from the economic fallout of the pandemic. COVID-19 emerged in China last year before spreading around the world. It has caused major disruptions, leading businesses to shutter, and sparking fears of an imminent recession.
“It’s going to be big, it’s going to be bold, and the level of enthusiasm to get something done—I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it,” Trump said.
Asked whether the White House stimulus package would stress spending over tax relief, Mnuchin said that while the administration favors tax relief in principle, the urgency of the situation demands quick action that will put cash into the hands of individuals and businesses amid virus-related shutdowns.
“A payroll tax holiday would get people money over the next six to eight months, and we’re looking to send checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said.
“And what we’ve heard from hardworking Americans, many companies have now shut down, whether it’s bars or restaurants, Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now—and I mean now, in the next two weeks.”
“We’re looking at getting people money as quickly as possible,” Trump said. “We’ll have a pretty good idea by the end of the day what we’re going to be doing.”
Mnuchin planned to outline the package to Senate Republicans at a private lunch, with officials aiming to have Congress approve it this week, The Associated Press reported. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in opening the Senate on March 17, promised swift action.
“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.
The package Mnuchin is pitching to Senate Republicans includes payments to small businesses, loan guarantees for airlines and hotels, and business interruption payments for workers.
“We’ll be looking for support for small and medium-sized businesses. We’ll be looking for support for certain industries that we’ve talked about that are particularly hard hit. I’ve talked about airlines, hotels, others. And we will be looking at a general stimulus,” Mnuchin told reporters on March 16, The Hill reported.
Mnuchin was asked by a reporter at the March 17 briefing to specify how much the stimulus package was worth.
He declined to provide specifics, saying, “I will be previewing that with the Republicans; there are some numbers out there, they may be a bit bigger than what’s in the press.”
The Washington Post first reported March 17 that Mnuchin would be seeking $850 billion, anonymously citing a senior administration official who reportedly said the proposal would focus mostly on spending, and to a lesser extent on tax relief.
Fox News confirmed the figure, citing a separate unnamed source, but noted that $500 billion would be tied to a payroll tax cut, $250 billion would come in the form of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, while some $58 billion would target the beleaguered airline industry.
Mnuchin told senators March 16 during a meeting at the Capitol that he would like to see the new package pass the Senate by the end of the week.
Early on March 14, Congress passed and Trump signed an $8.3 billion package to battle the coronavirus. The same day, the House approved a second measure, which underwent technical adjustments on March 16.
The Senate was expected to take up the House proposal on March 17. In order to avoid sending the legislation back to the House, the Senate would need to approve both the original bill and the correction.
Republicans said the Senate would work to pass the third measure this week containing the much larger stimulus package, because of uncertainty about the Senate schedule caused by the coronavirus outbreak. That would require the House to take up the legislation when it returns from recess next week.
Some administration officials and Senate leaders have expressed reservations about whether such a large bill could move that quickly through the Senate.
Reuters and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.