Senate GOP releases coronavirus relief plan with up to $1,200 in cash payments to individuals

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, speaks during a news conference after a weekly caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Senate Republicans released their proposal for a third coronavirus relief package Thursday as Washington moves swiftly to try to head off economic disaster. 

The 247-page legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell includes cash payments of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples. The sum would go up by $500 for every child. 

The check totals would start to phase out above $75,000 in adjusted gross income based on 2018 tax returns. People with non federal tax liability would get only $600. 

McConnell said the bill includes four major components: “direct financial help” for Americans, “rapid relief” for small businesses, “significant steps to stabilize our economy” and “more support” for health care professionals and patients. The proposal is not a finished product: Republicans and Democrats are expected to meet Friday to hash out details. 

The Senate has been under immense pressure to get a deal done with the House and Trump administration as quickly as possible. The ailing U.S. airline industry, which is expecting financial relief from the package, has rung the alarm of the catastrophic impact the halt in travel has on business. It is unclear how much longer companies can stay afloat without federal relief. 

Workers have lost jobs at shuttered restaurants and bars. Lawmakers have expressed particular concern about how the global pandemic will hit American small businesses. 

Adding to the urgency, two congressmen have tested positive for the coronavirus, while others are in self-quarantine. 

Still, the latest package may get caught up in political wrangling. House Democrats have largely been kept out of the loop of the negotiations, one Democratic aide told CNBC. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has criticized Senate Republicans for negotiating a deal among themselves and the administration.

And there may be a debate between the parties about the administration’s proposal to offer checks to Americans as a means of relief, a move some Democrats have argued may not be enough.

Some Republicans have opposed the idea of direct payments. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Thursday that “it makes no sense now to me.” 

Speaking earlier Thursday, McConnell indicated his support of direct aid. When speaking about getting money into the pockets of American workers he implored, “no tangled Washington process with a thousand cooks in the kitchen. No piles of forms for laid-off workers or busy families to fill out.” 

“For laid-off Americans,” he added, “this infusion would complement unemployment insurance and could be put toward immediate need during this crisis.”

Some Democrats, including Schumer, have focused their arguments on expanded unemployment insurance, not checks. Earlier Thursday, the New York Democrat said any assistance for struggling industries must include “worker priorities and worker protections.” 

He also called for a “Marshall Plan” for the health-care system to increase production of ventilators and the setup of new hospital space. 

Once the Senate strikes an agreement and passes a relief package, it will head to the House, which is on a temporary recess. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members Thursday that the chamber would not return until it is “in a position to vote on the third piece of emergency legislation to respond to the economic impact of this crisis.”

Meantime, McConnell indicated that even this next legislative package, likely to top $1 trillion, may not be enough to offer sufficient government relief as business across the U.S. economy grinds to a halt. 

“This may not be the last piece of economic legislation we pursue,” he said. 

Graham acknowledged the importance of getting the third proposal done quickly — by early next week.

“If we don’t, we’re going get our ass kicked,” he said Thursday. “So that’s why I think we have to do it. I’ll be the first to kick myself.”

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