Stimulus deal reached
Senate leaders announced an agreement early Wednesday morning on a massive financial rescue package designed to curb the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some of the legislative language had yet to be finalized, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate would vote Wednesday on a long-stalled measure that would provide cash payments to families, loans to businesses big and small, an expanded social safety net for the jobless and a World War II-style Marshall Plan for the nation's hospitals.
"At last, we have a deal," McConnell announced on the Senate floor at around 1:45 a.m. "After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on an historic relief package for this pandemic."
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who joined McConnell on the floor, called the measure "the largest rescue package in American history." The price tag was expected to hit $2 trillion or more.
"To all Americans I say, help is on the way," Schumer said. He pointed to more than $130 billion for hospitals and health care providers, $150 billion for state and local governments, dramatically expanded unemployment compensation, and strict oversight of hundreds of billions of dollars for business loans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration's point man in the talks, made clear that the package carries White House support. "I've spoken to the president many time today and he's very pleased with this legislation and the impact that this is going to have," he told reporters.
Senate leaders have been eager for days to pass a relief package to address the fallout of shuttered businesses and jobless workers as the coronavirus sickens thousands and puts the country in a virtual lockdown.
But talks had stalled over myriad sticking points that included the amount of cash payments, the structure of airline aid, the amount of food assistance needed and the oversight of a $500 billion fund that would offer loans to struggling industries. Precisely how those disputes were resolved will be made clear Wednesday when bill text is unveiled.
But weary Senate leaders used their brief floor speeches to focus on the gravity of the moment. "In effect, this is a wartime level of investment into our nation," McConnell said. "The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future. The Senate's going to make sure that they have the ammunition they need to do it."
The bottom line: Look for swift Senate passage of the measure Wednesday.
Tax breaks for sanitizers
Looking for a nice single-malt hand sanitizer? Or maybe something in a vodka or gin?
Hundreds of liquor distillers say they have already begun, or are planning, to turn over a portion of their liquor production to addressing the nationwide shortage of another alcohol-intensive product: hand sanitizers.
"There's well over 350-plus distillers around the country that have been mobilizing ... pivoting to take their distilled spirits and make hand sanitizers," said Chris Swonger, president of the Distilled Spirits Council, a Washington-based association.
The council has been lobbying to insert a provision in the coronavirus economic relief package that would exempt any of the hand sanitizers made by distillers from the $13.50-per-proof-gallon federal excise tax on liquor products. And while they were considered unlikely to get the provision into the stimulus package, they'll continue pushing for it, as Doug Sword reports.
Timing is everything for economic revival
For some experts, the coronavirus outbreak holds some striking similarities to World War II-era London, when that city shut down during the Blitz, prompting a halt to all economic activity.
"This is a war, not just a financial crisis," said David Beckworth, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Economists watching Washington as it formulates a response to the COVID-19 pandemic said the unique nature of the problem means policymakers are pursuing sometimes contradictory economic goals in which the timing of an action could determine its effectiveness.
First, telling people to stay home is the opposite of economic stimulus. Second, policymakers are trying to make sure that idleness will not deepen the country's economic problems if unpaid mortgages and rents lead to foreclosures and evictions. Third, policymakers are now trying to set the stage for the economy to come roaring back after the crisis has passed.
The three policy efforts overlap and the success or failure in addressing any one goal will partly determine how well policies achieve the others.