- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Markets surged Tuesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting its biggest point gain in history, as investors cheered the nearing agreement on a $2 trillion economic rescue package in Congress and President Trump’s statement that an economy stalled by coronavirus could be revved up again by Easter.

The Dow soared 2,112 points, or 11.3%, to close at 20,704. It was the index’s biggest one-day percentage increase since March 1933, and its largest point gain ever.

The S&P 500 soared 9.3%, and the Nasdaq jumped 8.1%.

The president attributed the market comeback to his expressed goal that most areas of the country could reopen for business by April 12, less than three weeks away, and to the looming deal in Congress to provide a massive infusion of cash and loans to workers and businesses idled by the coronavirus outbreak.

“They [investors] see we’re working very hard on that [restarting the economy], that’s a very big factor I think in today’s historic gains,” the president said.

He called the rescue legislation “the biggest and boldest financial relief package in American history.”

In Congress, Senate Democrats neared an agreement with the White House Tuesday night on the unprecedented economic recovery plan that includes Democrats’ demand for the government to pay furloughed workers up to four months of lost salary, delivers $500 billion to distressed companies and provides $130 billion for besieged hospitals.

Democrats negotiated all day and into the night with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on the package, which also will include direct cash payments to the average family of four of about $3,000. Both sides said they were very close to an agreement.

“We are working to pass the biggest and boldest financial relief package in American history,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “They’re getting very close right now to a very fair deal and a great deal for the people of our country.”

Combined with roughly $4 trillion in expanded lending and backing by the Federal Reserve, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Washington will be injecting $6 trillion into the economy.

“This package will be the single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States,” he said.

Leaders in Congress and the administration have been working for several days to pass as quickly as possible the economic stimulus package. In a move that resolved one sticking point, Mr. Mnuchin agreed to an inspector general and a five-member congressional oversight panel for the $500 billion fund for distressed companies.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said at mid-day that he was “very pleased” with a substantial increase of about $55 billion in funding for hospitals, as well as Republicans’ embrace of about $250 billion for what the New York Democrat called “unemployment insurance on steroids” — essentially full wages for affected workers for up to four months.

“This is a great plan,” Mr. Schumer said.

Unemployment insurance would be expanded from 26 weeks to 39 weeks in most states, boosting benefits by $600 per week through July to essentially provide full wages and salaries. Jobless benefits also would apply to freelancers and contractors.

The package also would provide nearly $400 billion in grants and loans for small business with fewer than 500 employees, with loans forgiven if companies keep their employees on the payroll.

Mr. Trump said the $500 billion fund for larger companies would help prop up the hard-hit airline and cruise-ship industries with loans.

“The loans will be very secure and they will be very profitable,” the president said.

But Mr. Trump emphasized, “The bill is very much focused on the small businessperson. It’s the engine of our country. The owners are going to need some help, and we’re going to take care of them.”

Lawmakers have included a $150 billion fund for state and local governments.

Republicans said the package also sets aside $75 billion for veterans services, $20 billion for public transportation, $10 billion for airports and $4.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Senate Republicans again criticized Democrats for blocking two earlier procedural votes on the package as more and more workers were laid off around the country.

“The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Everyone needs help. We’re all in this together.”

In remarks directed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. McConnell said the Senate wasted time on “Democrat counteroffers that demanded things like new emission standards, or tax credits for solar panels.”

“We saw the speaker of the House release an encyclopedia of unrelated demands as though it were a coronavirus proposal somehow. In spite of all that, we are very close,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah, currently hospitalized for coronavirus, warned his colleagues against pursuing partisan policies as they work on a phase three economic stimulus package.

“Using a public health emergency to insert unrelated partisan provisions is wrong,” Mr. McAdams said in a statement. “Both parties and both chambers must put politics aside and put working families — lives and livelihoods — first.”

In the House, lawmakers looked past Democrats’ rival $2.5 trillion plan including a liberal “wish list” such as same-day voter registration, focusing instead on the merits of the Senate package and how to approve it when most House members are back in their districts.

House Republicans said there was general support for approving the final package by “unanimous consent,” rather than a formal roll call that requires lawmakers to be physically present in the chamber. But the GOP conceded that the procedure is risky because a lone lawmaker could object and block the deal.

At an early evening briefing on the coronavirus task force’s efforts, Mr. Trump urged Congress to get the rescue package over the goal line.

“The legislation developed in the Senate is the first step to restoring confidence and stability to America’s economy as we look ahead to the time when we can carefully and responsibly reopen our country for business,” the president said.

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