On The Hill
STIMULUS LIMBO: Senate leaders and Trump administration officials sounded positive late last night that they were nearing bipartisan agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that is shutting down the U.S. economy — what would be the largest rescue package in modern history.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) emerged from hours of negotiations just before midnight to tell reporters they hope to announce a deal this morning, according to our colleagues Erica Werner, Paul Kane, Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis:
- “There are still documents that are going to be reviewed tonight and turned around, there's still a couple of open issues, but I think we're very hopeful this can be closed out [Tuesday]," said Mnuchin, who has been leading negotiations on coronavirus legislation for the White House.
- Schumer echoed: “Secretary Mnuchin called the president, we told him we were very, very close to an agreement; he seemed very happy with that … We still have a few little differences, but neither one of us expect it will get in the way of a final agreement.”
- Talks are expected to resume at 9:30 a.m.
Those differences: Democrats again refused to support the bill yesterday over concerns that the legislation still did not go far enough in providing assistance to workers, families and health care providers.
The major sticking point? How large pools of money would be disbursed to distressed corporations. Specifically, Democrats maintained that loans from a $500 billion fund to help large businesses needed additional oversight and transparency.
- “Democratic concerns have focused on a $500 billion funding program Republicans want to create for loans and loan guarantees, with some Democrats calling it a ‘slush fund’ that lacks any oversight because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money,” per Erica, P.K., Rachael and Mike.
- The breakdown: “It includes $425 billion for companies, states and cities, though it doesn’t prescribe many terms to dictate how the Treasury Department would determine who received the assistance. An additional $50 billion would go to helping passenger airline companies, $8 billion for cargo air companies and $17 billion to help firms deemed important for national security.”
- Trump did little to assuage those concerns during a White House briefing last night: “Look, I’ll be the oversight. I’ll be the oversight,” he said.
But Politico's John Bresnahan, Marianne Levine, and Sarah Ferris report that the issue over the $500 billion fund has been resolved, along with other outstanding issues such as funding for hospitals to handle the influx of sick patients.
- “According to three sources, Mnuchin had agreed to a key Democratic demand for ‘strict oversight’ over a $500 billion ‘Exchange Stabilization Fund’ designed to lend money to corporations and municipalities,” per Politico.
- “Schumer also said Mnuchin had agreed to a ‘Marshall Plan’ for hospitals to help respond to the growing coronavirus crisis. Senate Republicans had offered $75 billion for hospitals, but Schumer and Pelosi sought hundreds of billions in additional funding,” per Bresnahan, Levine, and Ferris.
- From our Post colleagues: “At the insistence of Democrats, who were participating in drafting the bill before bipartisan talks broke down over the weekend, more than $100 billion is being included for hospitals and some $250 billion to boost unemployment insurance. The sweeping economic package is designed to last for 10 to 12 weeks, after which the administration could revisit whether it would seek additional assistance from Congress.”
Another win for Democrats: “Democrats won one concession — to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks,” according to the Associated Press's Lisa Mascaro, Andrew Taylor, and Jon Lemire.
- “The jobless pay also would extend to self-employed and so-called gig workers,” per Mascaro, Taylor and Lemire. “But Republicans complained Democrats were holding out for more labor protections for workers, wanting assurances that corporations taking federal aid will commit to retaining their employees.”
What else we know about the rest of the package as it currently stands:
- “Though details remained fluid, the legislation would include direct payments of $1,200 to many American adults and $500 to children, and would create roughly $850 billion in loan and assistance programs for businesses, states and cities,” Erica, P.K., Rachael, and Mike report.
- More: “The Senate bill also includes a $350 billion program to help small businesses meet payroll costs, which is meant to stem the rising tide of layoffs.”
THE COUNTERPROPOSAL: House Democrats rolled out a competing 1,400 page stimulus proposal on Monday night.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's $2.5 trillion bill includes $150 billion in funding for the health-care system, including hospitals, community health centers and government health programs — and an additional $80 billion in low-interest loans to hospitals. It contains $500 billion in “grants and interest-free loans, some with forgivable components” for small businesses, according to a bill summary provided by Democrats.
It would send $1,500 in immediate cash assistance to individual Americans and up to $7,500 for a family of five. It also includes employment compensation of $600 per week for any worker affected by covid-19.
There are some notable differences between the latest in the Senate and what House Democrats included:
- More cash assistance: “Democrats want to further plump the direct payments that would go out to Americans under the bill, proposing $1,500 per person, instead of the $1,200 on the table under the Senate measure laid out Sunday,” per Politico's Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes.
- Vote-by-mail: The proposal includes a $4 billion in grant funding via the Election Assistance Commission “and a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, including mailing a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency,” according to the summary of the proposal.
- Airlines: The bill provides “$40 billion in grants to airlines and their ground support contractors, up to $21 billion in loans to airlines, $100 million in grants to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service to small communities.”
- 'Green' rules: “If airlines are going to get billions of dollars in loans under the bill, Democrats say they need to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2050. The House’s measure would also kick in $1 billion to help develop sustainable fuels for planes and create a program for the government to buy less-efficient aircraft, a la 'cash-for-clunkers,'” Politico reports.
- Minimum wage and conditions on aid: Companies — such as airlines — that do receive aid would be required to pay workers a $15-an-hour minimum wage. According to Politico's John Bresnahan, Marianne Levine, and Sarah Ferris, other conditions for corporate aid would include “limits on executive bonuses and compensation, ‘golden parachutes,’ stock buybacks or dividend payments.”
From Pelosi: “Democrats take responsibility for our workers. We require that any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars must protect their workers’ wages and benefits — not CEO pay, stock buybacks or layoffs,” the House speaker said during a news conference last night.
The criticisms: “But Republicans countered that Democrats are slow-walking any agreement while seeking inclusion of extraneous provisions onto the package that have nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak, like fuel emission standards for airlines and more wind and solar tax credits,” according to John, Marianne and Sarah.
- "Democrats won't let us fund hospitals or save small businesses until they get to dust off the Green New Deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "This has got to stop. And today is the day it has to stop. The country is out of time."
- And Trump had this to say:
Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies. They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2020
At The White House
TRUMP MAY SOON PUSH BUSINESSES TO REOPEN: The president said “that he may soon loosen federal guidelines for social distancing and encourage shuttered businesses to reopen – defying public health experts, who have warned that doing so risks accelerating the spread of the novel coronavirus or even allowing it to rebound,” our colleagues Philip Rucker, Jeff Stein, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report.
- Trump chafed repeatedly at suggestions that much of the economy will need to remain shuttered: “If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world … and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years,” the president said at his news conference. “We can’t do that.”
Pressure continues to grow on the president as stock prices plummet: “Trump has received urgent pleas from rattled business leaders, Republican lawmakers and conservative economists imploring him to remove some of the stringent social distancing guidelines that he put in place for a 15-day period ending March 30, according to several people with knowledge of the internal deliberations,” our colleagues write.
- Health care experts insist the suppression guidelines are still needed: “The consensus among experts — including infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and other senior officials on Trump’s coronavirus task force — is that restaurants, bars, schools, offices and other gathering places should remain closed for many more weeks to mitigate the outbreak, the worst effects of which are yet to be felt in the United States,” our colleagues write.
- Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb has repeatedly stressed that widespread testing, including proactive testing in some communities, is necessary before the U.S. begins to ease up on any suppression efforts. Otherwise, the extent of the outbreak may not be fully known.
THREAD: There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy. But it should not be lost on anyone that there's no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as covid-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) March 24, 2020
- Fauci is also reportedly wearing out his welcome: “In the past two weeks, as Dr. Fauci’s interviews have increased in frequency, White House officials have become more concerned that he is criticizing the president,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reports of Trump and unnamed officials losing their patience with the veteran public servant.
Among Trump's other points:
- The president argued that suppression efforts risk raising the national suicide rate: “People get tremendous anxiety and depression and you have suicides over things like this, when you have terrible economies, you have death… I mean, definitely would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we're talking about with regard to the virus.”
- He compared the lethality of covid-19 to car crashes: “And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we're talking about, that doesn't mean we will tell everybody no more driving of cars.”
Trump isn't the only one making the economic argument: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set up the potential for sacrifice as an almost patriotic duty.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick:— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) March 24, 2020
“What I'm living in fear of is what's happening to this country…‘Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that's the exchange I'm all in" pic.twitter.com/2vIleMB1jP
Outside the Beltway
NATION FACES GRIM WEEK: “For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic reached U.S. soil, the country reported more than 100 deaths in a single day, pushing the death toll past 500 and the infection total to more than 41,000,” our colleague Brady Dennis reports.
New York is now the unquestioned epicenter for cases nationally:
An increasing share of the country is shutting down: “More than 100 million Americans — nearly one in three — are under orders from their governors to stay at home. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered all passengers on all flights that originate in New York or New Jersey to self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the state. Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo (D) ordered a similar quarantine for any person flying into her state,” our colleague writes.
- Key quote: "I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on NBC.
THE LATEST IN THE DMV: “Virginia closed all schools for the rest of the academic year and Maryland ordered all nonessential businesses to shut their doors as the coronavirus continued to spread, with health care workers sounding the alarm about dwindling supplies of protective gear,” our colleagues Gregory S. Schneider, Ovetta Wiggins, Laura Vozzella and Kyle Swenson report.
- The cases in the region are now up to 684. As always, our colleague Jenna Portnoy has your full guide to local virus-related questions.
Virginia is now just the second state in the country to cancel classes for the rest of the academic year. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also directed a number of recreational and entertainment businesses to close, including gyms, barber shops and movie theaters.
- Northam said his state is “moving into a period of sacrifice.” He also tightened previous restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people, making it mandatory and applying it to private homes. The ban does not apply to hospitals and certain employment settings.
Maryland is now just short of a shelter-in-place in order: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) closed all nonessential businesses, but said an order like those in place in California and New York was not necessary.
- “Closing the businesses where people might gather is a ‘better, smarter action for us," Hogan said, per our colleagues. "Unless you have an essential reason, then you should stay in your home.”
District officials are scrambling for ways to increase hospital capacity: “The effort could include using unlicensed spaces such as hallways and scouting locations that could be reconfigured, such as furloughed nursing homes or unused hotels, said Christopher Rodriguez, the city’s top homeland security official,” our colleagues write.
- No D.C. shelter in place order for now: Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Washington was “basically closed down” pushing back against pressure from D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and others to issue such an order.
WHAT WE'RE LEARNING ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS: “Very recent innovations in imaging techniques enabled researchers to peer so closely at the novel virus’s spikes that they created a model of one, right down to the atoms, and are beginning to reveal its secrets,” our colleagues Bonnie Berkowitz, Aaron Steckelberg and John Muyskens report.
- Here's what the model looks like: The spikes or corona on the virus is where it gets its name.