WASHINGTON (CN) — The White House is weighing plans to put money in the pocket of every U.S. adult in the next two weeks as America grapples with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The country is very strong. We’ve never been so strong, and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” President Donald Trump said in a press briefing Tuesday morning with the COVID-19 Task Force. “With this invisible enemy we don’t want airlines going out of business or people losing their jobs and not having money to live when they were doing very well just four weeks ago.”
Trump said he would have a “pretty good idea” by the end of the day about how to implement the handouts as part of what could be a $850 billion stimulus plan.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the press at Tuesday’s briefing that Americans need cash now.
“I will tell you what we’ve heard from many people — and the president has said we can consider this — the payroll tax holiday would get people money over the next six to eight months,” Mnuchin said. “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. And what we’ve heard from hard working Americans is many companies have now shut down, whether it’s bars or restaurants.”
Asked by a reporter what the total cost of the proposal would be, Trump said: “It’s a substantial number. We’re going big.”
It was reported later Tuesday that the package could end up running a $1 trillion price tag, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would need more concrete details to speculate on that.
The Kentucky statesman told reporters he has created three task forces within the Senate Republican conference that will work on a proposal alongside the Trump administration before getting together with Democrats to negotiate a plan that can become law.
“This is not an ordinary situation, and so it requires extraordinary measures,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
The House late Monday passed what is expected to be the first of many COVID-19 relief bills. Trump has said he will sign the legislation once it is voted out of the Senate later this week.
“Tremendous things are happening,” the president said. “There’s great spirit, tremendous spirit. I can say that for Republicans and Democrats.”
Senator Mitt Romney first proposed the idea on Monday of giving $1,000 to every American to offset the economic hardship with confirmed novel coronavirus cases in 49 states.
“Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy,” Romney’s office said in a statement, noting the federal government took similar action during the 2001 and 2008 recessions.
Months earlier, former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang built his campaign around the idea of universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every American adult to offset economic inequality.
Mnuchin made clear in the White House briefing that the financial support would be part of a massive effort to keep the U.S. economy flowing. “I want to just be very clear,” he said. “We intend to keep the markets open.”
Filing taxes will also be pushed in recognition of the outbreak, with Mnuchin announcing that individuals can defer up to $1 million and corporations $10 million interest and penalty-free for 90 days.
“We don’t want you to lose out on those tax refunds,” he said. “We want you to make sure you get them.”
Trump continued on Tuesday to deny that the country was headed into a recession, repeating his stance from Monday that he prefers to focus on stopping the spread of the virus.
“I actually think we will have an economy like we have never had before,” Trump said Tuesday. “It’s all pent up.”
Mnuchin also said the government will provide loan guarantees to airlines and hotels. “For the airline industry, they are almost ground to a halt,” the secretary said, adding: “This is worse than 9/11.”
While Trump remains set on touting what he calls the government’s efficient response to the virus, implementing containment and testing procedures, the president’s tone weighed heavy Tuesday in contrast to his typically combative stance.
“I think we are going to win faster than people think,” Trump said, adding: “I hope.”
The White House on Monday began advising Americans to refrain from gathering in groups of more than 10 people — a reduction from the original 50-person maximum gathering recommendation — urging every citizen to stay home when possible, and to avoid eating out and traveling. To avoid furthering the spread and overtaxing hospital resources, officials say individuals who show symptoms of the novel coronavirus should first call their doctor for advice about getting tested.