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Trump Proposes Stimulus Package For Coronavirus Outbreak's Economic Damage

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's administration is proposing an $850 billion stimulus package to help businesses and individuals cope with the abrupt slowdown in the U.S. economy from the coronavirus and the related shutdowns. Eight-hundred-fifty billion dollars - that's the scale of bailouts during the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

NPR's Scott Horsley covered that crisis, is here for this crisis. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Sounds like the White House agrees that the economy needs a lot of help.

HORSLEY: It seems so. The Federal Reserve did its part over the weekend, slashing interest rates to zero, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system to keep credit flowing. But even as the central bank took that action, Chairman Jerome Powell said there was a need for Congress and the administration to do more.

As late as yesterday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow seemed to be downplaying that need. He was telling reporters that, look, Congress has already done a lot. But we've got economic warning sirens going off all around us, and it does seem as if the administration is now ready to push for more aggressive measures to help the economy, just as it's begun to do on the public health front.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The administration's earlier message - the president's earlier message, especially - was this will pass; it's temporary; we have a fundamentally strong economy. Now it's seeming less and less temporary. So what is the administration proposing to do?

HORSLEY: We don't know all of the details. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is expected to brief Republican senators later today. We understand that the package does include the $50 billion in aid that airlines have been asking for. Obviously, airlines have taken a beating during this crisis. But the package is also expected to include some help for struggling workers, and that could take a number of forms.

Up until now, the president and his administration have been pressing for a payroll tax cut. The problem with that is it does nothing to help people who are suddenly not on the payroll because their employer has closed its doors.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

HORSLEY: A payroll tax doesn't help tipped workers, who have taken a beating in this mess. And it's also regressive. It gives more money to higher wage earners. There are alternative proposals out there. Republican Senator Mitch - Mitt Romney of Utah has suggested just sending $1,000 to every American. Democratic senators have their own stimulus plan.

Mnuchin did say over the weekend that the president's open to other ideas for distributing this kind of mass assistance. But the White House still seems to be sticking with the payroll tax cut even though that idea has gotten little support on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: Is - are the financial markets any more enthused about this than they have about any other administration proposals?

HORSLEY: U.S. stocks open up this morning. The Dow jumped more than 400 points right at the get-go, about 2%. That rally fizzled pretty quickly. Right now the markets are roughly flat - flat to up and down. Flat's a relief after yesterday, though...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Yeah.

HORSLEY: ...When the stock market had one of its worst days in history. Yesterday, the Dow plunged almost 3,000 points, the biggest point drop ever, the second-biggest percentage drop ever. So far this morning, trading at least has gone smoothly. We have not had to see the kind of temporary halt to trading to let investors catch their breath that we saw yesterday.

INSKEEP: Scott, I'm curious if anybody's talking, too, directly about small business owners who maybe don't have a lot of cushion. The payroll tax may not too directly help them. They're not going to get much from the airline bailout. Is there anything in there for those kinds of people who are desperately trying to stay open now or closing now?

HORSLEY: There certainly seems to be an awareness that those small business owners are maybe among the most vulnerable in this situation. We don't know what form that relief might take. But certainly, there is an awareness that the mom-and-pops are in need of some help here.

INSKEEP: OK. There will be much more to report through the day as we learn more details of the president's proposed $850 billion stimulus package, not to mention counterproposals from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. And NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley will be with us throughout all of it.

Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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