Senate could push through ‘Phase 3’ coronavirus rescue plan this week

Following a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, acting budget chief Russ Vought, and White House legislative affairs Director Eric Ueland, Senate Republicans said the Trump administration will present them with proposals on Tuesday for the latest response to the economic calamity caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

GOP senators said Mnuchin wants to funnel money to small businesses hit by the crisis, perhaps tens of billions of dollars.

And the U.S. airline industry, which has taken a huge hit as passengers disappear, could also get some financial help from the federal government. While the administration doesn’t want to call it a bailout, the airline industry has warned that some carriers may face a “potential valley of death” if action isn’t taken quickly.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other top Democrats will roll out their own $750 billion-plus package on Tuesday, and what Trump and Senate Republicans will propose may equal or top that.

“I’m not going to comment on the specific numbers right now. I’ll be talking to the Republicans at lunch tomorrow. But it’s a big number,” Mnuchin said after huddling with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senior Republicans for more than an hour in the Capitol on Monday.

“And 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.”

“The president has instructed his team to look very expansively at what we have to do, and not be impeded by the potential price tag for what’s necessary here,” Ueland added.

A multibillion-dollar measure crafted by Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide some paid sick leave, expand free coronavirus testing, and boost food aid and unemployment insurance is expected to be taken up in the Senate as early as Tuesday. Congress already passed an $8.3 billion bill to combat the virus.

Mnuchin is supposed to attend a Senate GOP luncheon on Tuesday and offer specific proposals for the next piece of congressional action.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who attended the session with Mnuchin and other administration officials, said the Senate could move to a new rescue package as early as this week. In fact, Rubio said many senators made it clear they want to move ahead on that drastically accelerated timeline.

“I don’t think we can assume that we can keep reconvening the Senate every week like we did this week. I don’t think we can make that assumption,” Rubio said. “With what might happen to airlines or travel schedules, with individual members having to go into quarantine or being exposed — I don’t think we can operate as if we can just bring the Senate and House back whenever we want.”

McConnell’s office wouldn’t comment on the possibility of passing the Phase 3 bill, although a Senate GOP aide noted, “The discussions are too premature to say at this point. But now that FISA is out of the way, it opens up more floor space for possible consideration.”

Ueland also noted that Trump wants quick action as well.

“We can’t let weeks and months get under our feet here,” Ueland said. “Again, we have a real focus on urgent action, and I’m hopeful there could be swift consideration of consensus ideas as quickly as possible.”

Senators in both parties acknowledged they were concerned about the current government deficit, which was already projected to be more than $1 trillion before the coronavirus hit and derailed the economy.

But now, they point out that only the federal government can respond to this emergency with the financial power needed to address the present emergency.

“The reason having a massive deficit is a problem is that in a crisis, only the federal government can frankly provide support to state and local governments that have to balance their budgets,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).