Mar 20, 2020

Axios PM

Good afternoon. Today's PM — edited by Shane Savitsky — is 482 words, a 2-minute read.

1. Unknown cost of coronavirus stimulus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Despite what you've heard from congressional Republicans over the last decade, there's no limit to how much the government can spend — and that'll become evident as the federal government prepares its "phase three" coronavirus stimulus package, write Axios' Felix Salmon and Alayna Treene.

  • Why it matters: U.S. government spending is about to skyrocket, with checks going out to individuals, loans being handed to companies and other attempts to stanch the coming economic pain.

How it works: When Congress passes a spending bill, Treasury borrows all of the necessary funds by issuing Treasury bonds.

  • There is no debt ceiling at the moment — it was suspended in last year's budget deal — so Treasury can issue as many new bonds as it wants.
  • Because the U.S. government is considered the safest borrower in the world, there is always ample demand for Treasury bonds.
  • The bonds are sold to banks, and if the banks don't have enough money to buy them, the Federal Reserve will lend them as much as they need. The banks then turn around and sell the bonds, at a small profit, to investors from around the world.

The big picture: The stimulus' impact on the national debt isn't a big worry on Capitol Hill, several Democratic and Republican aides tell Axios. 

  • "Folks aren't super concerned about debt right now — they just want to act. … And we normally would be [concerned], but this is uncharted territory," one Senate GOP aide said.
  • "We’re going to borrow and the debt will go up,” another GOP aide said, adding that there haven’t been many discussions about the longer-term economic impact. "The truth is that we need to spend money to help people right now."

Worth noting: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn't scored either the "phase two" plan or "phase three" proposal, so their ultimate cost to the government is still unknown.

Bonus: Clip du jour

Screenshot via NBC News

NBC's Peter Alexander asked President Trump at today's White House coronavirus briefing: "What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?"

  • Trump: "I say that you're a terrible reporter, that's what I say. I think it's a very nasty question, and I think it's a very bad signal that you're putting out to the American people."

Watch the exchange.

2. Catch up quick

Photo: Getty Images

  1. Tax Day has officially been moved to July 15 this year. Details.
  2. Mike Bloomberg won't create his own PAC to support the Democratic nominee; he'll instead donate $18 million to the DNC. The big picture.
  3. New York workers have been ordered to stay home, with exemptions for those deemed essential. Go deeper.
  4. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his controversial stock sell-offs. Read his letter.
  5. Joe Biden asked CEOs to make a commitment against stock buybacks amid the coronavirus pandemic. What he said.
3. 1 fun thing

Photo: Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, one of the year's most anticipated video games, was officially released today — and it might be the relaxing balm many need in these uncertain times, writes the Washington Post's Elise Favis.

  • Nintendo's life simulator allows you to "mold an entire island to your heart's desire and befriend your anthropomorphic neighbors."
  • "New Horizons is Zen-like: your island has a soothing aura, with happy-go-lucky residents and low-risk gameplay."

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