Law­mak­ers close in on $2 tril­lion stim­u­lus deal

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERICA WERNER, MIKE DEBONIS, PAUL KANE AND JEFF STEIN

Congress and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tuesday closed in on a mas­sive $2 tril­lion stim­u­lus pack­age to ad­dress eco­nomic fall­out from the coro­n­avirus, as law­mak­ers re­viewed fi­nal lan­guage and the Se­nate aimed for a swift vote.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.), Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Trea­sury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — the top White House ne­go­tia­tor — all said they ex­pected res­o­lu­tion soon. How­ever, law­mak­ers were still hash­ing out de­tails, and the sit­u­a­tion was fluid and could quickly change.

Hopes for a vote Tuesday evening dis­si­pated as hours passed without res­o­lu­tion, with law­mak­ers en­gaged in pro­tracted hag­gling among them­selves and with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Ex­it­ing an early evening meet­ing in Schumer’s office, Mnuchin told re­porters: “I know you’ve heard this be­fore, but ev­ery­one’s try­ing to close this out to­day. . . . We are go­ing back and forth on text.”

The pack­age would ex­tend ex

traor­di­nary — and un­prece­dented — tax­payer as­sis­tance to po­ten­tially mil­lions of Amer­i­can and for­eign com­pa­nies that have been ham­mered by the fast-mov­ing eco­nomic cri­sis. It would ex­tend one-time cash pay­ments to most Amer­i­cans in an ef­fort to flood the econ­omy with money. The bill is be­ing rushed through Congress without pub­lic hear­ings or for­mal re­view, and it’s un­clear how ef­fec­tive the mea­sures would be in ar­rest­ing the econ­omy’s sud­den fall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) told col­leagues on a con­fer­ence call that the Se­nate bill had made “a big ad­vance” but “doesn’t have ev­ery­thing we want,” ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple with knowl­edge of the call who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe its con­tents.

The stock mar­ket rose sharply Tuesday in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the deal, with the Dow Jones in­dus­trial aver­age surg­ing more than 2,100 points, or 11.4 per­cent. The govern­ment is deal­ing with a num­ber of com­pet­ing pres­sures, though, as Pres­i­dent Trump de­clared that he’d like much of the coun­try to be up and run­ning by April 12 even though the num­ber of peo­ple test­ing pos­i­tive for the novel virus in the United States con­tin­ues to climb.

The Se­nate bill would di­rect pay­ments of $1,200 to most Amer­i­can adults and $500 to most chil­dren, cre­ate a $500 bil­lion lend­ing pro­gram for com­pa­nies, states and cities, and ex­tend an ad­di­tional $367 bil­lion to help small com­pa­nies deal with pay­roll prob­lems. It would bol­ster the un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance sys­tem and pump $150 bil­lion into U.S. hos­pi­tals. The bill more than dou­bled in size in just a few days.

White House Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil Direc­tor Larry Kud­low called it the “sin­gle largest Main Street as­sis­tance pro­gram in the his­tory of the United States.”

The de­lay in fi­nal­iz­ing a deal came, in part, be­cause aides launched a painstak­ing scrub of the bill’s text, to make sure that one of the most am­bi­tious pieces of leg­is­la­tion ever at­tempted by Congress — thrown to­gether in lit­tle over a week — ac­tu­ally said what law­mak­ers wanted it to say.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans were be­ing ex­tra metic­u­lous be­cause they felt an ear­lier and much smaller coro­n­avirus re­lief bill, which Mnuchin ne­go­ti­ated in a rush with Pelosi ear­lier this month, turned out to have pro­vi­sions re­lated to paid sick leave that GOP sen­a­tors op­posed — but which they reluc­tantly ac­cepted. Now, they wanted to double- and triple-check Mnuchin’s work in bro­ker­ing a deal with Schumer given the enor­mous stakes.

Still, the largely op­ti­mistic out­look on Capi­tol Hill was a shift af­ter days of par­ti­san ran­cor in the Se­nate, as law­mak­ers squab­bled over who was at fault for their fail­ure to ad­dress the cri­sis that has shaken the econ­omy, led many busi­nesses to dra­mat­i­cally scale back op­er­a­tions, and forced mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to seek un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

“To­day, the Se­nate can get back on track. To­day, we can make all of the Wash­ing­ton drama fade away,” Mccon­nell said. “If we act to­day, what Amer­i­cans will remember, and what his­tory will record, is that the Se­nate did the right thing.”

As law­mak­ers neared a deal, the White House made a sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sion to Democrats’ de­mands, agree­ing to al­low en­hanced scru­tiny over the mas­sive loan pro­gram that is a cen­ter­piece of the Se­nate’s $2 tril­lion coro­n­avirus eco­nomic pack­age.

This per­tains to the $500 bil­lion loan and loan guar­an­tee pro­gram that the Trea­sury Department would be tasked with ad­min­is­ter­ing for com­pa­nies, states and cities. Of that amount, $425 bil­lion is sup­posed to go to busi­nesses, cities and states. An ad­di­tional $50 bil­lion would go to pas­sen­ger air­lines, as well as $8 bil­lion for cargo air­lines, and $17 bil­lion for firms that are deemed im­por­tant to na­tional se­cu­rity.

Pres­i­dent Trump has al­ready said he wants some of the money to go to the cruise ship in­dus­try, and he also wants as­sis­tance for ho­tels. When he was asked Mon­day evening who would per­form over­sight of the pro­gram, Trump re­sponded, “I’ll be the over­sight.”

But dur­ing closed-door ne­go­ti­a­tions on Capi­tol Hill, White House of­fi­cials agreed to al­low an in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tor gen­eral and an over­sight board to scru­ti­nize the lend­ing de­ci­sions, sen­a­tors said.

The most re­cent prece­dent for this is the $700 bil­lion Trou­bled As­set Re­lief Pro­gram that was cre­ated dur­ing the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis. To over­see TARP, Congress cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tor gen­eral, a reg­u­la­tory over­sight board and a congressio­nal over­sight panel. Over the course of sev­eral years, in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­cov­ered nu­mer­ous cases of fraud at large and small com­pa­nies as firms sought to ob­tain tax­payer money through various pro­grams.

Democrats wel­comed the de­vel­op­ment.

“We got bet­ter over­sight, bet­ter over­sight,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA.) said as he left a morn­ing meet­ing with Schumer. “The over­sight ba­si­cally is say­ing that you know you can’t just . . . ex­empt ev­ery­body and give all your cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, based on the backs of the tax­pay­ers, a free car­ni­val.”

Manchin has been crit­i­cal of the bill be­ing weighted more to­ward Wall Street than aver­age Amer­ica. Trump took a shot at the law­maker when asked about his crit­i­cism dur­ing an in­ter­view Tuesday on Fox News.

“Does Joe Manchin want all of these, or many of these com­pa­nies to go out of busi­ness? We’ll have an un­em­ploy­ment rate the likes of which no­body’s ever seen be­fore,” Trump said. “We have to save these com­pa­nies. These are com­pa­nies that weren’t in trou­ble three weeks ago, and now they’re in trou­ble be­cause of what hap­pened. These are great com­pa­nies, they’re in some cases triple A com­pa­nies.”

Tuesday’s de­vel­op­ments came af­ter Schumer and Mnuchin ne­go­ti­ated un­til nearly mid­night on Mon­day at the Capi­tol, up­dat­ing Trump fre­quently and sound­ing more op­ti­mistic than they have through days of rocky talks. On Twitter Tuesday morn­ing, Trump called on Congress to “ap­prove the deal, without all of the non­sense, to­day.”

The leg­is­la­tion would also sig­nif­i­cantly boost un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, ex­pand­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity and of­fer­ing work­ers an ad­di­tional $600 a week for four months, on top of what state un­em­ploy­ment pro­grams pay.

“We had asked for four months and four months looks like what we’re go­ing to get,” Schumer said on the Se­nate floor. “It will put money into the hands of those who need it so much be­cause they lost their jobs, as I said, through no fault of their own.”

The leg­is­la­tion also con­tains $130 bil­lion for hos­pi­tals and $150 bil­lion for a state and lo­cal stim­u­lus fund, both ma­jor Demo­cratic pri­or­i­ties, Schumer told fel­low Democrats on a con­fer­ence call, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the call who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss it.

Law­mak­ers of both par­ties are un­der ex­treme pres­sure from their con­stituents and health-care providers in their dis­tricts and states to act to pro­vide des­per­ately needed money and sup­plies amid wide­spread short­ages and waves of lay­offs. As of Tuesday evening there were more than 53,000 con­firmed cases of the coro­n­avirus in the United States, and the num­bers were ris­ing by the hour.

Mnuchin was joined on Capi­tol Hill on Tuesday by White House leg­isla­tive af­fairs direc­tor Eric Ue­land and Rep. Mark Mead­ows (R-N.C.), the newly an­nounced White House chief of staff. They joined key Se­nate Repub­li­cans around mid­day to re­view terms of the deal.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-fla.), who ne­go­ti­ated the small-busi­ness por­tion, said it had grown to $367 bil­lion, with in­clu­sion of six months of loan for­bear­ance for all small busi­nesses ad­ding $17 bil­lion to the orig­i­nal $350 bil­lion price tag.

“I can’t imag­ine there not be­ing a deal given the dif­fer­ences that re­main are frankly not in­sur­mount­able,” Ru­bio said fol­low­ing the meet­ing.

All par­ties would like to act swiftly, so if the Se­nate is able to pass a bi­par­ti­san pack­age quickly the ex­pec­ta­tion is that the House would fol­low suit. House Democrats re­leased their own larger and more gen­er­ous stim­u­lus pack­age on Mon­day, stuffed with pro­vi­sions that would be non-starters for Repub­li­cans such as a $15 min­i­mum wage re­quire­ment for air­lines and busi­nesses that re­ceive funds. But that leg­is­la­tion would be set aside and Pelosi would at­tempt to move the Se­nate bill through the House.

One out­stand­ing is­sue Pelosi raised is that Democrats are push­ing for a dra­matic in­crease in food stamp ben­e­fits in ex­change for ac­cept­ing bil­lions more in fund­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s farm bailout that Repub­li­cans have in­cluded in the stim­u­lus bill. Sen. John Ho­even (R-N.D.) said in a news re­lease that the leg­is­la­tion would in­crease the amount the Agri­cul­ture Department can spend on its bailout pro­gram from $30 bil­lion to $50 bil­lion.

A few other stick­ing points re­mained. Democrats were push­ing for more money for Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes. And in early drafts of the bill cir­cu­lat­ing Tuesday, non­prof­its, with the ex­cep­tion of those that re­ceive fund­ing from Med­i­caid, would have been al­lowed to ac­cess the small busi­ness loans. This would ef­fec­tively have ex­cluded some health cen­ters that pro­vide re­pro­duc­tive ser­vices. Some Democrats and health ad­vo­cates ob­jected to that lan­guage — and as the leg­is­la­tion was fi­nal­ized it ap­peared to have been struck..

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is cur­rently out of ses­sion, and it would be tricky for House mem­bers to re­turn en masse to Wash­ing­ton to vote. Demo­cratic aides said they were op­ti­mistic that a strong bi­par­ti­san Se­nate vote would make it pos­si­ble to pass the bill by unan­i­mous con­sent in the House — a process re­quir­ing only two mem­bers present in the House cham­ber. But that would re­quire ev­ery law­maker to agree — a tall or­der for a $2 tril­lion bill touch­ing ev­ery part of the U.S. econ­omy.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“If we act to­day, what Amer­i­cans will remember, and what his­tory will record, is that the Se­nate did the right thing.” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.) said Tuesday.

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