Trump supports Sen. Mitt Romney’s pitch to give checks to every American

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with members of the media as he departs a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on an economic lifeline for Americans affected by the coronavirus outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Washington • President Donald Trump backs direct payments to Americans to help ease the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and stimulate the teetering economy, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Tuesday, backing a proposal floated by Sen. Mitt Romney, who suggested a $1,000 one-time check to every adult American.

Mnuchin did not detail how the payments would be processed — or how much or who would get them — but said such a move could come within the “next two weeks.”

“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said at a White House briefing. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now — and I mean now — in the next two weeks.”

Romney, R-Utah, had said Monday that a one-time check to American adults would help those affected by the outbreak, which has killed more than 100 people in the United States and thousands globally and prompted local governments to shutter restaurants, bars and movie theaters among other places people gather. Romney said further checks may be needed, too, if the situation worsens.

The Senate was working on a path forward to help stem a deep slide on Wall Street as well as businesses struggling to stay open or operate as Americans self-isolated amid the growing threat.

“We’re not going to leave this building until we get the job done,” Romney told reporters Tuesday. “It may take us a few days or a few weeks but we’re gonna get the job done."

What the final package delivered from Congress looks like is still up in the air. Businesses, from airlines to casinos to hotels, are lining up to ask for a bailout from taxpayers as the tourism industry dries up.

Small businesses are facing rough times as patrons are told to stay home and Americans living paycheck to paycheck worry about how long they can stay afloat as the outbreak worsens.

Romney’s original proposal did not include a cutoff for higher-income Americans, though he signaled that was a possibility and during a Senate GOP caucus meeting Tuesday, ideas ranged from $600 per individual, $1,200 per married couple and $300 for each dependent child to larger amounts still under discussion.

Full payments could go to those making $80,000 or less a year with a tapered amount for those making higher incomes.

Mnuchin said he was eyeing a scaled payment so that people in higher income brackets may not see immediate payments.

“I think it’s clear we don’t need to send people who make $1 million a year checks,” Mnuchin said.

Romney was one of the first members of Congress to suggest a cash infusion — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, suggested $1,000 a month on Friday — and the idea caught steam.

Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio pitched the idea Tuesday of giving as much as $4,500 to “nearly every adult and child” in the United States, according to The New York Times.

Their proposed legislation would start with a $2,000 payment to individuals excepting the highest-income Americans and another $1,500 payment in July and possibly another check in the fall.

Mnuchin huddled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators, including Romney, on Monday night and warmed to the idea, according to a Senate aide.

Previously, the White House and some Republicans had pushed for a payroll tax cut, which is still a possibility, but such a move would not so quickly hit Americans' wallets.

Romney said senators are also discussing offering loans to small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — that would be offered by banks but backed by the federal government. Romney had initially supported grants to small businesses so it wouldn't add to their debt.

The White House also took steps on Tuesday to move on another front Romney had been pushing during the coronavirus crisis, boosting telehealth services for those on Medicare so that they could visit with medical providers without going into a facility. Medicare will now pay clinicians to provide such services.

“These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus,” said Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Clinicians on the front lines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”