As the House is poised to vote Thursday on a bill to boost paid sick days and food assistance and provide free coronavirus testing, President Donald Trump is weighing declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during her Thursday morning media briefing that the House would bring to the floor Thursday afternoon H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which, among other measures, “offers free coronavirus testing, by and large,” for everyone in the United States. “No one will say, ‘I can’t afford it,’” Pelosi said.
During a meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, reporters asked Trump if he was going to declare a national emergency under the Stafford Act, which governs disaster relief and emergency assistance. Trump responded: “We have things I can do. We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act.” He continued, “I have it memorized practically as to the powers in that act, and if I need to do something I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”
When asked if he would use those powers Thursday, Trump responded: “I don’t want to say that. It would be more minor things at this point.”
Added Trump: “I have a lot of emergency actions that I can take.”
Trump stated that besides potential use of Stafford Act, “we’re dealing with the Democrats to see what can be done. I happen to think that a payroll tax cut would be a very good idea.”
The market carnage continued Thursday with the three major indexes plummeting nearly 10% each. The S&P 500 closed down 9.51% to 2,480.63, its biggest daily drop since the market crashed in 1987. The S&P joined the Dow in a bear market. The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 9.99% to 21,200.89; and the Nasdaq fell 9.43% to 7,201.80.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would cancel its planned recess for next week as Congress aims to pass a coronavirus response plan.
The Families First Act focuses on 14 days paid emergency leave, which Pelosi said was “very essential as we deal with this public health challenge,” as well as enhanced unemployment insurance, an increase to food assistance and help for small businesses.
The bill is “about putting families first,” Pelosi said. “We did the major investment last week” with the $8.3 billion stimulus bill, “strongly bipartisan, already signed into law, and there will be other initiatives that we want to work with the administration on that may be necessary as we go forward — that need more discussion, more impact in terms of what is the collateral benefit for collateral damage to stopping the spread” of the coronavirus.
Social Security trust funds would not be used to administer or fund the paid sick leave, the bill states.
“Testing, testing, testing — so very important,” Pelosi said.
When asked to detail some “broader” issues that might come up in subsequent bills, Pelosi responded: “Let’s get this bill passed first. People are concerned about their health and the health of their children…. We’re addressing the reality of family life first.”
Another bill, she said, could “come shortly down the road.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who’s also a doctor, said on a Thursday morning call with reporters that his staff will begin telework starting Friday. A staffer in the Hart Senate Office Building tested positive for coronavirus.
Cassidy said it’s likely the Senate may amend the House-passed bill and send it back to the House.
Cassidy added that he’s “clearly committed to stimulating the economy,” and stated that “now would be a good time for an infrastructure” bill, as “money is at record lows” with the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates.
The Fed said it would inject more than $1.5 trillion of temporary liquidity into Wall Street on Thursday and Friday to prevent ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction, the Wall Street Journal reported.
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