Trump, Congress negotiating massive stimulus as cash payments to Americans gain steam

Treasury Secretary to meet with Senate Republicans today to outline $850 billion financial package

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Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Capitol Hill
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Last Updated:
March 17, 2020 - 7:21pm

President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin pressed ahead Tuesday with an $850 billion stimulus package to combat economic fallout from the coronavirus as direct cash payments to Americans suddenly gained popularity across official Washington.

"We want to go big, solid," Trump said at a press briefing today, pushing aside criticism of the proposed price tag for what the president called a "big, bold package."

Trump's pitch came as the death toll in America from the pandemic surpassed 100, and the 50th and final state, West Virginia, reported its first positive case. In New York City, officials began discussing a shelter-in-place order for later this week. Meanwhile, the sports world was rocked by news that one of the NBA's brightest stars, Kevin Durant, and three New Jersey Nets teammates have tested positive for the virus.

The Trump administration is working to mitigate the economic blow of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has sent markets into a frenzy in the past few weeks. Trump said today if the package wasn't large enough, it would require repeated, disruptive returns for additional funding.

The package would possibly include direct cash payments to Americans, roughly $50 billion for the flailing U.S. airline industry, as well as more general stimulus measures that could include a payroll tax cut through the end of the year. Mnuchin today said the package could also include business interruption payments to small businesses and loan guarantees to "critical industries," including airlines and hotels.

The proposal is still in its early stages, and Mnuchin is set to meet with Senate Republicans again today to flesh out the plan and encourage the Senate to approve legislation already passed by the House that focuses on easier access to coronavirus testing. 

"We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately," Mnuchin said. "And what we have heard from hardworking Americans, many companies have now shut down, whether it is bars or restaurants," he said. "Americans need cash now. And the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now in the next two weeks."

Mnuchin also said he approved the Federal Reserve to set up a special-purpose vehicle to allow lending to financial firms for "commercial paper," or short-term, unsecured promissory notes.

Mnuchin also said President Trump had authorized an increase in Americans deferring IRS payments, interest-free and penalty-free, from an initial $200 billion up to at least $300 billion for individuals facing taxes up to $1 million (Mnuchin said this figure was to help "lots of pass-throughs and small businesses") and up to $10 million for corporations. 

Mnuchin encouraged as many Americans as possible to file tax returns, especially if they were going to be eligible for a tax refund.

"We don’t want you to lose out on those tax refunds," Mnuchin said.