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Senate Republicans Unveil New Coronavirus Relief Package

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to release a GOP-led coronavirus response bill Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to release a GOP-led coronavirus response bill Thursday.

AP, J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to release details of a roughly $1 trillion GOP-led coronavirus response bill Thursday with hopes of quickly reaching a final agreement with Democrats as the number of lawmakers in self-quarantine rises.

McConnell has been in close contact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in recent days as they rush to draft a bill that reflects a GOP-wide consensus. At that point, McConnell plans to launch talks with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

Mnuchin says the legislation includes plans to send most Americans a check or direct deposit of $1,000 within three weeks. In an interview with Fox Business, Mnuchin said each person in a household would be eligible for that money. In addition, $500 would be made available for each child. So a family of four would receive $3,000 under the proposal, Mnuchin said.

“As soon as Congress passes this we’d get this out within three weeks,” Mnuchin said. “Six weeks later, if the president still has a national emergency we will deliver another $3,000 [for a family of four].”

Mnuchin said the plan also includes $300 billion for small businesses loans. The loans are intended to be used for hiring and maintaining payroll and could be forgiven down the line.

Democrats have not said if they will accept the GOP proposals. But Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have been in touch with Mnuchin and are sharing their ideas even if they have not been actively included in writing the bill.

Schumer acknowledged in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition that there is public pressure for lawmakers to set aside differences and pass a bill quickly.

“We don’t want to be partisan, we just want to solve the problem,” Schumer said. “We want to get something done quickly and boldly. That’s a big job but we have to do it because the crisis is even bigger.”

But Schumer says Democrats have a number of additional requests, including a vast expansion of unemployment insurance benefits.

Democrats want to provide a major increase in the amount of money provided through the federal unemployment assistance program — perhaps as high as an equal match to the salary lost. Schumer is also calling for that program to be extended for many months, along with expansions to paid sick and family leave. The president signed a package Wednesday night that included a first round of paid sick and family leave as well as help for jobless Americans, but lawmakers in both parties acknowledged a broader effort was needed as the economic impact continues to worsen.

Hill Democrats also want limitations on any corporate bailouts or aid.

“If they’re going to do these corporate bailouts, we want to make sure they’re for the average worker,” Schumer said. “We want to make sure they keep all of their workers without salary cuts, we want to make sure they don’t use this money for stock buybacks.”

The rapid developments come as lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about the spread of the virus within the Capitol.

Roughly nine lawmakers are currently under self-quarantine and at least two have tested positive for COVID-19. While there is rising pressure among some rank-and-file members to allow remote voting, leaders have rejected those proposals.

Dozens of House lawmakers were already asking chamber’s leaders to allow remote voting before the any members had tested positive. The effort was spearheaded by California Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell and Katie Porter.

“Congress also should be no exception to the public health safeguards,” they wrote in the March 18 letter to Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We are undermining our unified, bipartisan message to the American people when we come together on a crowded House floor to vote.”

During a House chamber vote, there can be more than 430 members and 100 staffers clustered on the floor, they said.

In all, 52 members signed the letter. Both Swalwell and Porter previously urged remote voting ahead of the health crisis, saying it should be an option to members regardless. However, the issue has taken on a new sense of urgency with the coronavirus outbreak.

Congress would have to pass resolutions allowing remote voting, which would require either unanimous consent or an in-person vote. Either is a high bar, making the policy change unlikely at this moment.

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