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Elizabeth Warren calls for a 'grassroots' stimulus package to counter coronavirus economic impact

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Elizabeth Warren's 'grassroots' plan to address coronavirus crisis

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday called on the U.S. government to respond to the coronavirus outbreak by passing a "big stimulus package" that offers health-care guarantees and injects money at the "grassroots level."

In an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, the Massachusetts Democrat explained that her far-reaching proposal addresses everything from COVID-19 testing to student loan holders to workers and businesses. The total package would cost $750 billion, up from the $400 billion original plan she presented last week.

"We need to show that we have a government that understands the scale of this problem and understands that the approach to it is to get money ... Down into the hands of the people who will put it down at the grassroots level and help support this economy from the ground up," she said in a "Mad Money" interview. "So that's the basic approach."

Warren, who put out an initial proposal earlier this month, counted off three policy guarantees intended to stop the spread of the deadly virus that has infected at least 1,323 people and led to at least 38 deaths in the United States as of Thursday. Those steps include boosting the number of and making coronavirus tests free to everyone, ensuring that a vaccine, when developed, will be free to all and earmarking a "pot of money" to cover workers that call off sick or to care for an infected individual.

"Those are good for all of us in terms of our health and reduce the amount of contagion," Warren said. "They are also good for us economically, so that's where I start every part of this."

Warren, who ended her campaign to seek the Democratic nomination for president a week ago, included not just employees but employers in her plan. The plan includes a measure to allocate low-interest or interest-free loans to help businesses weather through the health crisis as many consumers limit their time outside the house. Companies would be required to keep workers on payroll.

"That will help the economy in multiple ways [to] keep these businesses open so that when people are venturing out again and we are putting money in from the other direction … They'll have open stores to come to and goods to buy," she explained. "This keeps the circle going and that's what we want to do in this economy."

In efforts to increase the amount of money that consumers are spending in the economy, the senator wants to get more money into the hands of student loan borrowers and social security recipients. That includes canceling college debt obligations at least for the next three months, while increasing social security and disability payments by $200 a month "at least for a year," she said.

"If you assume we're only going to spend a certain amount of money here, I'd much rather see us target it rather than an across the board that disproportionately advantages rich folks," she said.

Warren has an additional week to try to woo her colleagues in a bitterly divided Washington to include her proposals in a response package. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier Thursday canceled the Senate's recess scheduled for next week as lawmakers in both chambers work to hash out a plan to address the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

In his announcement, McConnell said he hopes "Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong."

Over in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been in negotiations with the Trump administration. House Republicans opposed a response plan their Democratic colleagues presented in the afternoon.

Last week, Trump signed a wide-reaching spending bill that put $8.3 billion towards prevention efforts and research to develop a vaccine to combat the deadly disease.

When asked by Cramer whether she thought Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders — the remaining Democratic hopefuls — was better equipped to handle the outbreak, Warren deflected. The senator has yet to endorse a candidate since leaving the race.

"Right now I'm pushing the administration to do a better job," she said. "That's the urgency of this moment. Let's talk about what we can do tomorrow."

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Elizabeth Warren presents $750 billion 'grassroots' plan to address coronavirus crisis

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