Saying lawmakers "need to take bold and swift action as soon as possible," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday introduced legislation to provide as much as $1,200 per person and $2,400 per couple in the U.S. amid the coronavirus outbreak and skyrocketing jobless claims.
The draft legislation, obtained by Fox News, would provide minimum payments of $600 for those with no federal tax liability, and aid would be phased down at adjusted gross income thresholds of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple. Additionally, there would be $500 payments for each child.
The rebate amount is slated to then be reduced by $5 for each $100 a taxpayer’s income exceeds the legislation's threshold. The amount is therefore reduced to zero for single taxpayers with incomes exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers.
The IRS would determine income based on taxpayers' 2018 tax returns, or 2019 tax returns in cases where there is no 2018 return -- a provision that The Federalist's Sean Davis called "idiotic," given that many "jobs or businesses disappeared within the last month."
Qualifying income includes earned income, as well as Social Security retirement benefits and certain compensation and pension benefits paid to veterans. This approach "ensures relief gets to low-income seniors and disabled veterans" as well, top Republicans said in their summary of the legislation.
And, similar to previous disaster-related relief provisions, the bill would "waive the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes."
McConnell's proposal aligns with the Trump administration's push to swiftly send checks to U.S. citizens.
The legislation additionally contains numerous provisions geared at helping small businesses, including a delay of payment for employer payroll taxes, a delay of estimated tax payments for corporations, and modifications for net operating losses.
McConnell's plan would provide $208 billion in loans and loan guarantees to distressed sectors of the economy, including $50 billion for commercial airlines and $8 billion for air cargo carriers, and $150 billion for other eligible businesses, but those loans would have to be paid back.
It's an opening salvo in fast-track talks with Democrats as President Trump urges Congress to “go big” to respond as Americans reel from the crisis.
McConnell, R-Ky., speaking on the Senate floor, said he wanted key Republicans to meet with Democrats on the relief bill, known as S.3548, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Phase III).
"These are urgent discussions and they need to happen at the member level," McConnell said, noting the White House will send key personnel to talk about the bill as they try to forge a compromise.
Fox News is told McConnell did not yet have the votes on his side, and that the situation was complicated by the fact that two Republicans have self-quarantined. Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley has said McConnell's plan doesn't cover enough low-income individuals, and he introduced an amendment to that effect on Friday.
The GOP holds a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence the possible tiebreaking vote.
Speaking after McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., complained that Republicans had sought "no input" from Democrats, and asserted that no Democrats had even seen the bill.
He added he was told "there is a bailout for industries" in the measure.
"The number one priority is addressing this health crisis, which requires a Marshall Plan to rebuild our health care infrastructure on a continental scale and ensure the resources are there to test and treat everyone who needs it," Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement.
“To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives, and laying off workers," they added. “We look forward to working in a bipartisan way to deliver for the American people as soon as humanly possible.”
Even some of McConnell's GOP senators have said they preferred instead to use the federal dollars to keep workers who are asked to stay home on the business payrolls.
“What I want is income, not one check,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., summing up the views of some exiting a long, private meeting of GOP senators on Capitol Hill. One or two checks “makes no sense to me,” he said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday morning told Fox Business Network that the White House was looking at payments of $1,000 to most adult Americans within three weeks, as a way to stem the widespread economic damage caused by shuttered businesses and social distancing.
Mnuchin also said that if the crisis were still ongoing in six weeks, the federal government would deliver another round of checks worth the same amount of money.
The Treasury secretary said Thursday the checks would be direct-deposited into people’s accounts.
Though unusual, stimulus checks are not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush's administration twice successfully pushed for economic stimulus checks.
Meanwhile, President Trump on Wednesday signed the second coronavirus relief bill into law that provides paid sick leave, unemployment help and free testing to Americans.
The legislation provides 14 days of paid sick days to workers affected by the coronavirus, ensures free testing to everyone, including the uninsured, and expands food aid and boosts unemployment dollars to states.
The House and Senate already passed a bipartisan $8.3 billion package to prop up the health care system to prepare for the influx of sick Americans. The second response bill that was signed into law Wednesday aims to bring relief to workers who lost their jobs and families at home for illnesses, quarantines or caring for kids whose schools have shuttered.
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Brooke Singman, Mike Emanuel, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.