President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed optimism about the prospects for passage of an emergency relief bill to respond to the coronavirus economic shutdown, as the Senate appeared closer to reaching an agreement on it.
“Together, this $2.2 trillion legislative package is bigger than anything I believe ever passed in Congress,” Trump told reporters, even comparing it with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s.
“Perhaps, relatively speaking, if you go back and look during the FDR New Deal days, there was something that if you time-value it [for inflation], it was bigger,” the president said. “But this is certainly, in terms of dollars, far and away the biggest ever, ever done. That’s a tremendous thing, because a lot of this money goes to jobs, jobs, jobs and families, families, families.”
The bill includes $350 billion in loans for businesses for job-retention purposes. It has an additional $300 billion in direct cash payments, or $3,400 for the typical family of four earning less than $99,000 per year and up to $250 billion in expanded unemployment benefits.
Four Republican senators, however, expressed concern that unemployment insurance paying out $600 per week—more than many low-wage jobs pay—would be a disincentive to work. Those GOP senators were Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
“We want to have enhanced unemployment insurance,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters. “This is the only way we could ensure the states could get money out quickly, in a fair way. So, we used $600 across the board. I don’t think it will create incentives. Most Americans, what they want, they want to keep their jobs.”
One reporter asked the president whether he was making political calculations regarding his hopes of reopening the economy by Easter on April 12.
“I think there are certain people that would like [the economy] not to open so quickly. I think there are certain people who would like it to do financially poorly” to hurt him politically, Trump said.
“I think it is very clear that there are people in your profession that write fake news. You do. She does,” Trump said, pointing to a reporter. “… Nobody has done the job that we’ve done. And, it’s lucky that you have this group here right now for this problem, or you wouldn’t even have a country left.”
As of noon Wednesday, the U.S. had 54,453 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 737 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After it appeared that both sides reached a compromise stimulus bill over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., put forward a proposal that included numerous subsidies to the wind and solar industries and support for various other liberal causes, as well as $35 million to the Kennedy Center, a huge performing-arts venue in Washington, D.C.
The compromise package that appears headed for passage includes $25 million for the Kennedy Center. When asked about that, Trump said he supported it.
“I approved that. It was $35 million, and we actually took off $10 million. I’m a fan of that, although I haven’t spent time there because I’m far too busy,” Trump said, adding:
I’d love to go there for evenings, but I’m too busy doing things, because that’s more important for me. The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly because nobody can go there. It’s essentially closed, and they do need some funding. And I said, “Look, that was a Democrat request. That was not my request.”
But you’ve got to give them something. It’s something that they wanted. It works that way. Democrats have treated us fairly. I really believe that we had a very good back-and-forth. I say that with respect to [Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.]. I spoke to him a number of times.
They had requests also. … That’s not a good sound bite, but that’s the way life works. With that being said, the Kennedy Center, they do a beautiful job. … This thing has been devastating to it.