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Mnuchin: Trump wants checks sent to public in virus response

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks back to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks back to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wants the government to send checks to Americans in the next two weeks in an effort to curb the economic cost of the coronavirus outbreak, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.

“The president has instructed me we have to do this now,” he said at the White House briefing. He didn't give details except to say the amount should be significant and millionaires would not get it.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

The White House was asking Congress on Tuesday to approve a sweeping emergency stimulus package to help businesses and taxpayers cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. It's the most far-reaching economic rescue package since the Great Recession of 2008.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to outline the roughly $850 billion package to Senate Republicans at a private lunch, with officials aiming to have Congress approve it this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, opening the Senate on Tuesday morning, promised swift action.

“The Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps above and beyond what the House has passed to help our strong nation and our strong underlying economy weather this storm," McConnell said.

Bigger than the 2008 bank bailout or the 2009 recovery act, the White House proposal aims to provide a massive tax cut for wage-earners, $50 billion for the airline industry and relief for small businesses.

Two people familiar with the request described it to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

“There's great spirit” among lawmakers, President Donald Trump said at the White House briefing Tuesday as he outlined several elements of the rescue plan. “I can say that for Republicans and Democrats.”

But it's an enormous political and economic undertaking as a slow-moving Congress tries to rise to the occasion of these fast times.

The debate is sure to revive the sharp divisions over the costly bank bailout and economic recovery of the Obama and Bush era. Particularly striking is McConnell's urgency after having adjourned the Senate over the weekend while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi muscled through an aid package.

Angry senators from both parties boarded planes returning to a changed Washington, as Trump declared a state of emergency, the virus spread and the economic free-fall worsened.

The White House hopes the measure will pass quickly, possibly this week, an enormous political undertaking as the administration scrambled to contain the economic fallout of the severe disruptions to American life from the outbreak.

White House officials offered senators a preliminary briefing late Monday at the Capitol, saying they want the plan approved by Congress as soon as possible, suggesting in a matter of days.

“ASAP,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said late Monday. “There's an urgency.”

The rush to inject cash and resources into the economy is an effort unlike any since the 2008 economic crisis, with political and economic interventions and eye-popping sums to try to protect Americans from the health and financial fallout.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do from here,” Mnuchin told reporters late Monday.

The new proposal is beyond the House 's estimated $100 billion aid package of sick pay, emergency food aid and free virus testing that was approved over the weekend and is pending before the Senate.

Now Congress will be rushing to pass two — a massive, sweeping response to the virus outbreak that is rewriting America's way of life.

Muscling the aid will test Congress and the White House at a pivotal moment in the crisis and in an election year when the two parties have vastly different outlooks on the best way to prop up the economy and help Americans.

Senate Democrats have proposed their own $750 billion package — boosting hospital capacity and unemployment checks for the suddenly jobless — with deep negotiations to come.

All sides — the House, Senate and White House — agree more federal resources are needed to handle what's coming.

At the start of the month, Congress approved $8.3 billion in initial aid. Trump quickly signed into law the measure, which provided federal agencies money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments, and funding to help state and local governments respond to the threat.

During the recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed in February of that year, had an initial price tag of $787 billion which was revised later to $831 billion. That was under Barack Obama.

The Tarp passed in the fall of 2008 to help troubled banks had a price tag of $700 billion. It was put together by the George W. Bush administration, and provided money for the auto bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler. All of that money for the banks and the auto companies was paid back.

Now, Republicans often reluctant to spend federal dollars did not flinch at the head-spinning number, as a roster of America's big and small industries — airlines, hotels, retailers — lined up for aid.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called for sending $1,000 to every adult American.

The president conveyed that lawmakers should “not be impeded by the price tag,” said Eric Ueland, the White House legislative director.

Industries representing a broad swath of the economy are seeking help in withstanding the fallout as schools close and Americans are being told they should stay inside, skip nonessential travel and avoid gatherings with 10 people or more.

That means no dining out, no boarding planes, no shopping the malls as a great national shutdown sparks business closures, layoffs and lost paychecks for rents, mortgages and everyday needs.

The nation's largest business organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked the Trump administration and Congress on Monday to act rapidly to help companies have access to cash and avert a “potentially devastating” hit to the economy.

The request from the U.S. airlines alone could easily top $50 billion, according to Airlines for America, the trade group representing the carriers.

Pulling together the new package will challenge the basic logistics of governing as Congress itself struggled to adapt to the new normal.

House Democrats were told on a conference call they won't be recalled to Washington until the next package is ready for action, according to people familiar with the call but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity.

The 100-member Senate convened for an evening vote — in the new era of social distancing. While different authorities around the country have issued conflicting advice, the Trump administration said that Americans should not gather in groups of more than 10 people over the next 15 days. All older people are asked to stay at home.

The No. 2 Senate Democratic leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, counting the number of senators on the floor, questioned what example they were setting. He urged swift passage of the House package. “What are we waiting for?” he asked.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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