A Blunt Assessment of the Virus Relief

March 20, 2020

The streets are empty, but the Senate is full as members tackle another full day of debate over the government's coronavirus response. This morning, Democrats joined Republicans at the negotiating table, putting their heads together on what they hope will be the fastest and most effective way to stop the economic freefall. The goal? To reach an agreement before the end of the day.

With more experts trotting out dire new predictions about the economy, the clock is ticking. For days, senators have been racing to shore up businesses and families before the worst of the outbreak hits. President Trump signed the second aid package Thursday, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge of brokering a deal for the third wave. Everything is on the table -- from putting checks in the mail to Americans to bucking up flailing industries like the airlines.

"It's almost certain," Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told me Thursday on "Washington Watch," "that a substantial part of what we do for economic stimulus will be done through individuals and families. [We are] kind of the working assumption right now that about half of that trillion dollars would go directly to individuals who are parts of families that make less than, say, $75,000 per individual..." The idea is, he said, to get that money pumping back into the economy. "...[T]here are going to be lots of families that are going to have expenses they didn't anticipate because of lost work or additional child-care costs or additional cost of various kinds. And we intend to see that money out of Washington and in people's hands by the first few days of April, if we can get that done at all."

In Wednesday's bill, Blunt pointed out, the focus was keeping people on the payroll and making sure businesses could afford it. Now, moving into this bigger package, senators will be looking for ways "to create access to low-interest loans and other things." One of the silver linings here, Senator Blunt and I agreed, is that "unlike the 2008 effort to get the economy going again... there's nothing systematically wrong with this economy. What's wrong is that because of this virus, people have been encouraged to step back and not be part of the normal economy. And that is creating real, real problems. And we're going to try to do all we can to moderate those problems and get us to where, when we're a few weeks down the road -- maybe even two or three months down the road -- we're not that far from where we would have been if this crisis hadn't developed."