Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday argued the $2 trillion package that Congress is expected to pass this week should be thought of as “emergency relief” and not a “stimulus” measure.
“This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief, that’s what this is,” he said on the Senate floor.
He declared that the massive bill will “help the people of this country weather this storm,” arguing the legislation was needed to mitigate the economic fallout from a pandemic, not to jump-start an economy that had record-low unemployment before the crisis.
He said it was needed after public health rules that “put so much of our nation’s commerce on ice.”
The GOP leader said the Senate would pass the legislation Wednesday but did not schedule a precise time, as staff was working late into the night and this morning to draft the bill.
“The Senate is going to stand together, act together and pass this historic relief package today,” he said.
It’s unclear when the House will pass the bill, though lawmakers in that chamber are also under pressure to take action. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier on Wednesday said the House was reviewing it.
Lawmakers in both parties expect a large bipartisan vote in favor of the bill in the Senate. It’s also likely to pass the House by a wide margin, and lawmakers are talking about whether it could be done through unanimous consent or voice vote.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) did criticize the Senate bill on Wednesday, saying it did far too little for New York, which has emerged as the epicenter for coronavirus in the United States.
McConnell has tried to avoid using the term stimulus, instead calling the 700-page bill a “phase three” response to the spread of coronavirus after Congress first passed an $8.3 billion measure funding the medical response and then a $100 billion-plus package to provide paid sick leave and expanded virus testing that House Democrats negotiated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Part of the political calculation for the use of the term is to downplay expectations that the massive bill will heal the economy or even turbocharge it before the November election.
Lawmakers and economic experts acknowledge that’s uncertain and that it could take a while to bring unemployment numbers, gross domestic product (GDP) growth and the stock market back to the same levels as before the health crisis.
“Nothing I’ve laid out so far will represent a typical economic stimulus in the way we think of that term,” the GOP leader said last week. “Nobody — nobody — expects that employment figures, or the stock market or GDP growth will bounce right back to where they were a few weeks ago,” he said.
Other Republicans have also backed off the term “stimulus.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who faces a potentially competitive reelection in November, said it should be thought more of as an economic “rescue” package.
“First they called it a stimulus, then they called it a recovery package. I think this should be called a rescue package,” he said on the Senate floor.
He added the measure is intended to “rescue this economy, to rescue these jobs, the small business owners.”