US Senate Republicans unveil $1 trillion virus relief package

Washington (AFP) –


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday presented a $1 trillion emergency relief package to combat the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The Republican-drafted text, which if it becomes law would be one of the largest federal economic interventions in US history, must now be examined by Senate Democrats before a date for a vote can be set.

"This legislation takes bold action on four major priorities that are extremely urgent and very necessary," McConnell told the Senate.

"First, direct financial help for the American people. Second, rapid relief for small businesses and their employees," he said.

"Third, significant steps to stabilize our economy and protect jobs. And, fourth, more support for the brave health care professionals and the patients who are fighting the coronavirus on the front lines."

If and when it clears the Senate, the measure must then be passed by the majority-Democratic House of Representatives before being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

McConnell urged Democrats and the White House to get on board quickly.

"I hope this bold new proposal will find a similar degree of bipartisan respect and mutual urgency on the other side of the aisle and across the Capitol," he said.

Negotiations with Democrats are set to start Friday, but could take time.

Democrats want the government to cut checks and send them directly to affected Americans, "putting money directly into the hands of those who need it most," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides for "recovery rebates" of up to $1,200 for taxpayers earning less than $99,000 per year.

It also offers $208 billion in loans for companies hit by the crisis, including $58 billion for the airline sector, and $300 billion in small business loans.

Some influential Republican senators have voiced opposition to the idea of direct financial aid for individual Americans.

Democrats did not seem thrilled with the package Thursday evening, with Schumer saying he wished his party could have been involved in drafting the relief proposal.

"We are beginning to review Senator McConnell's proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers," Schumer and Pelosi said in a statment.

"We don't want these industries to go under," Schumer added. "But we certainly don't want the dollars that are put there to go to corporate executives or shareholders again, they must go to the workers first."

McConnell confirmed that senators would remain in Washington until the massive plan was passed.

- 'Unprecedented situation' -

The bill was unveiled as Trump said his administration is fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a treatment against the coronavirus.

The medicines are not specifically mentioned in the text but it does address improving the supply chains for medical equipment and drugs viewed as critical for treating the virus.

This so-called third phase relief package follows the adoption of a bipartisan $100 billion aid plan signed into law by the president on Wednesday.

Trump offered an air of reassurance, saying that the economy would "get back to where it was and beyond."

The priority is to pass the $1 trillion package to inject money into the economy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox Business News, warning that unemployment could reach 20 percent if action is not taken quickly.

"This is an unprecedented situation," he said.

The relief plan is extraordinary as well. It is substantially higher than the $700 billion budgeted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, to stem the 2008 financial crisis.