The Journal Gazette
Friday, March 27, 2020 1:00 am

Congress preparing for more in virus 'war'

$2.2 trillion relief package just the start of aid needs

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Even before U.S. senators unanimously approved their historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, federal lawmakers were talking about the increasing likelihood they will need to send more aid to Americans.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said Thursday that the federal government “is prepared to do whatever it takes, because this is very much analogous to a war setting. We're on a war footing, and we need to behave with that measure of boldness if we're going to get beyond this quickly so we can restore our economic growth and start resuming life as normal.”

The Senate voted 96-0 in favor of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act late Wednesday night. The House was expected to consider the legislation on an unrecorded voice vote today for present members, although a Republican congressman from Kentucky reportedly was considering demanding a roll-call vote requiring representatives to return to Washington from their recess.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has topped 1,100, and a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as many states, including Indiana, have curbed commercial and recreational activities, closed schools and ordered people to stay home. But stock prices have soared this week as the CARES Act advanced.

If passed by the House and signed by President Donald Trump, the legislation would send one-time direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child to many Americans, expand unemployment benefits, make $500 billion in loans available to businesses, pump $150 billion into the health care system and provide $150 billion to state and local governments.

It is the third phase of emergency federal funding intended to slow the spread of the respiratory virus and mitigate its economic damage, and the term “phase four” already is being used.

“There's a high possibility that there will be other needs that will have to be met,” Young said during a conference call with news media.

“There are some who have argued that this most recent package was really designed to stabilize our economy and provide for emergent needs. I happen to agree with that,” the Greenwood resident said. “And that if we need to catalyze (business and consumer) spending, if we need to catalyze growth again because we've gone from 85 miles an hour to zero in fairly short order, then we'll look at some programs that are targeted at doing that.”

Young said the CARES Act is “the largest economic relief package in American history, and it was important that we got it right and spent a lot of time coming to terms on sometimes complicated and challenging issues.”

“Were there parts of this package I didn't like? Yes,” he said, without naming them.

“But it was frankly past due for the United States Senate to pass this bill,” he said. “So many people had already been furloughed all around the state of Indiana and around the country. Families needed help. Health care providers are stretched and need reassurance, and we provided that.”

He said provisions of the legislation “were tailored to get these resources out the door as quickly as possible.” Young praised oversight measures contained in the bill “to learn from some of the lessons of the last stimulus episode” during the 2008-09 financial crisis and recession.

“There was bipartisan agreement that this was right and proper to have more scrutiny over where these funds go and to ensure that they are spent on sort of purposes that collectively benefit our country as opposed to benefit some well-heeled executives,” he said.

The legislation has its critics.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that District of Columbia officials are upset that the district is being treated as a territory instead of a state.

The CARES Act would deliver about $500 million in aid to the district but at least $1.2 billion to each state.

Young predicted “a lot of lessons learned on the back end” of the coronavirus outbreak that he said might lead to public policy decisions on “what improvements that we might make that will benefit the American people once we get through this.”

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