GOP Sen. Mitt Romney proposed on Monday sending every American adult $1,000 to ease the financial pain of the coronavirus pandemic that has tanked global markets and threatened to grind U.S. economic activity to a halt.
The proposal from the 2012 Republican nominee for president came as the White House and Congress work to reach an agreement over the necessary stimulus measures to contain the unfolding economic crisis.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, asked on Monday by a reporter whether the White House would support direct cash assistance to American households, paused and said "we might."
"The answer: 'could be,'" Kudlow said.
Markets, which have snapped their 11-year bull run, continued to plunge on Monday despite the Federal Reserve's announcement over the weekend that it would cut its benchmark rate to nearly zero and begin a massive $700 billion quantitative easing program.
Workers in service industries are getting slammed as airlines cancel travel and cities force restaurants to close or limit their capacity. Meanwhile, school closures are forcing parents to stay home to watch their children, including hourly workers who will have to forego paychecks.
"While expansions of paid leave, unemployment insurance, and SNAP benefits are crucial, the check will help fill the gaps for Americans that may not quickly navigate different government options," Romney said in a statement.
The Utah lawmaker has little influence in the Republican party under President Donald Trump. Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict the president in his impeachment trial earlier this year.
But the idea of sending out stimulus checks has been gaining traction in recent weeks.
In an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal published earlier this month, Harvard University economist Jason Furman proposed sending $1,000 to every taxpaying resident or citizen, and $500 to every child.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, have also pushed the idea of direct cash assistance to low-income Americans.
On the left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has suggested a universal basic income as a possible remedy.
"This is not the time for half measures," she wrote in a post on Twitter. "We need to take dramatic action now to stave off the worst public health & economic affects."
Congress used similar stimulus measures to boost consumer spending amid the 2001 and 2008 recessions. Under President George W. Bush, the federal government sent out tax rebate checks of about $300 to $600 per household in 2001 and about $600 per person in 2008.
Romney also proposed on Monday a plan to provide grants to small businesses that have lost more than 50% of their revenue and student loan deferment for recent graduates. His plan would also require all private insurance companies to cover telehealth services related to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
At the moment, legislation intended to address the crisis remains in limbo.
On Saturday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation that would require some employers to provide paid sick leave and allocate funding for unemployment insurance and food assistance.
In a statement on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had yet to receive a final draft of the bill, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said required a "technical correction."
Romney said Monday that the House bill "contains critical measures" and that the Senate should vote on it quickly.
"We also urgently need to build on this legislation with additional action to help families and small businesses meet their short-term financial obligations, ease the financial burden on students entering the workforce, and protect health workers on the front lines and their patients by improving telehealth services," he said.
Earlier this month, Trump signed an $8.3 billion relief bill earlier that pumped funding into prevention efforts and research.
The White House has signaled that a third piece of legislation is on its way, geared toward helping particularly hard-hit industries including the airlines.