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Trump Administration Seeks to Send Checks to Americans as Part of Stimulus Package

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 3/17/2020 Andrew Duehren, Andrew Restuccia, Kate Davidson
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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it backs a plan to send checks directly to Americans, as part of a $1 trillion stimulus plan to help households and businesses hit by the sudden economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is pitching Senate Republicans on a package that would include roughly $250 billion in direct payments, according to a White House official, part of a wide-ranging fiscal and monetary effort to cushion the outbreak’s economic blow. The official said the administration would push for additional direct payments in the coming weeks, if needed.

“It is a big number. We’ve put a proposal on the table that would inject a trillion dollars into the economy,” Mr. Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol.

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Mr. Mnuchin told Republican senators on Tuesday that the administration hopes to send the first batch of checks to the public by the end of April, adding that the payments would be means-tested to ensure they don’t advantage the wealthy, according to people familiar with his comments.

The total size of the proposed stimulus package far outstrips the $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis.

“We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly and small-business owners have access to funds,” Mr. Mnuchin said earlier Tuesday at the White House. He also cited the needs of hotels and airlines. “We have an entire package that we’ll be laying out those details today.”

Mr. Mnuchin also said the federal government will postpone the April 15 tax-payment deadline for millions of individuals, giving Americans another 90 days to pay their 2019 income tax bills in an unprecedented move. The IRS, using authority under President Trump’s national emergency declaration, will waive interest and penalties as well, Mr. Mnuchin said, though he encouraged Americans to file their taxes by the April 15 deadline. 


The stimulus package comes as lawmakers are weighing the next stages in the economic response to the outbreak. Congress has already passed an initial $8.3 billion response and is near completing a second package of legislation focused on workers following some late changes made Monday to scale back a paid-leave expansion.

Democrats have proposed their own $750 billion package for the third phase of the response, and other lawmakers have started floating a variety of measures, including giving $1,000 in cash to every American.

Mr. Mnuchin discussed the outline of the administration’s latest stimulus measure with Senate Republicans at the Capitol on Monday night, and detailed the plan more fully during a broader meeting of Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

After the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the chamber would move to vote on the House bill as soon as possible, and then immediately launch broader stimulus negotiations. Mr. McConnell reiterated that the Senate would not leave town without passing the broader stimulus bill, though he did not give more details on the timeline.

Officials had originally said they planned to propose an $850 billion stimulus package, but the White House official said the overall stimulus figure increased to $1 trillion after budget officials reviewed the numbers.

The Trump administration’s stimulus plan will include roughly $50 billion for the airline industry, according to people familiar with the matter, as well as billions of dollars in general stimulus that could include a payroll tax cut. The proposal is still in its early stages and is awaiting final signoff from Mr. Trump, an administration official said.

Other proposals under consideration among lawmakers from both parties include direct cash payments to Americans, an idea endorsed in some form by Sens. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) and Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio).

The details remain in flux and the top-line $1 trillion figure could increase, but Mr. Mnuchin is expected to discuss a number of options with Republicans, including a refundable tax credit to help people struggling with the economic effects of the outbreak and additional assistance for small businesses.

Mr. Mnuchin has said the administration would seek additional funds for emergency loans administered through the Small Business Administration, and is considering deferring quarterly tax payments to help small firms conserve cash.

Separate from the fiscal stimulus package Mr. Mnuchin is pitching, the White House also plans to ask Congress to approve an additional emergency funding bill to provide federal agencies with more resources to combat the virus, according to a senior administration official. The official said the administration had not yet decided on the size of the request, but said it would be more than the $8.3 billion emergency funding bill approved earlier this month.

The measure would provide additional resources for agencies facing increased demands due to the pandemic, such as increased health-care costs for the Department of Veterans Affairs and new measures at the Department of Education that would defer interest payments for student-loan borrowers.

The White House has signaled to Senate Republicans, who were largely cut out of earlier negotiations with House Democrats, that they will have a greater role in the discussions over the next stimulus package. Republican leadership and the administration hope to move a bill through the Senate quickly, perhaps as soon as the end of this week, one of the people said.

Though Mr. Trump is pushing a suspension of the payroll tax through the end of this year, the proposal has faced skepticism on Capitol Hill, and other proposals are under consideration.

“The president believes very strongly in his payroll tax cut idea and has made it crystal clear more than once his interest in seeing action on the payroll tax cut from Congress this year. However, there are also many other good ideas that members of Congress have,” Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, said on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) is also set to propose his own broad stimulus package that will be worth at least $750 billion. Mr. Schumer will provide details of his proposal to Senate Democrats during a meeting on Tuesday, which will be conducted over the phone, according to a senior Democratic aide. Mr. Schumer’s plan will include expanded unemployment insurance and aid for small businesses, among other measures, according to his office.

House lawmakers left Washington at the end of last week after passing a coronavirus-response bill, while the Senate canceled a previously scheduled recess to work on legislation responding to the pandemic.

Democrats scaled back the paid-leave provision in the legislation in a series of changes made Monday, reducing eligibility for 10 weeks of paid leave beyond two weeks of paid-sick leave. Some Senate Republicans had raised concerns about the impact on business of the paid-leave provisions of the bill and Mr. Mnuchin negotiated the final changes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) on Monday.

A person familiar with the White House’s thinking said the changes were made to the legislation to “reflect the deal between the secretary and the speaker,” referring to Mr. Mnuchin and Mrs. Pelosi, adding that the White House supported the alterations.

Mrs. Pelosi along with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio spoke with Mr. Mnuchin Tuesday to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the airline and transportation sectors. She outlined her requests for the third stimulus package in a statement, as Mr. Mnuchin met with Senate Republicans.

Mrs. Pelosi called for expanding the scope of allowable uses of family and medical leave and for the next stimulus package to ensure that workers who are sick can access long-term leave, should they exhaust other resources. Mrs. Pelosi also said the refundable tax credits should extend to self-employed workers and others with nontraditional employment, and that first responders and health-care workers have access to paid leave that they need.

Some of these items were in the original bill pitched by House Democrats last week but were scaled back in the legislation that eventually passed the House.

“During negotiations, the Democratic House will continue to make clear to the administration that any emergency response package must put families first before any aid to corporate America is considered,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Write to Andrew Duehren at andrew.duehren@wsj.com , Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com and Kate Davidson at kate.davidson@wsj.com

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