April 30, 2020 / 3:01 PM / 25 days ago

Fourth stimulus bill may not be needed if states bounce back - White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fourth bill to provide stimulus to the U.S. economy may not be needed if states are able to successfully reopen their economies “relatively quickly,” as some forecasters and equity markets expect, a White House economic adviser said on Thursday.

Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett gestures as he speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

“I think probably very soon, very shortly, we’ll have a better idea about whether we need to extend the current existing things or move on to new ideas,” presidential adviser Kevin Hassett told Fox News Channel.

“If they really do sort of get back to normal relatively quickly ... then there might not necessarily be much need for another bill,” he said, saying the course of the economy will depend heavily on how effectively the nation halts the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. gross domestic product shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter, its deepest dive since the end of 2008, and economists expect a sharper contraction in the current quarter.

More than 30 million Americans have joined the unemployment benefit rolls over the past six weeks, and Hassett said the unemployment rate this month likely jumped to around 19% from 4.4% in March.

With the economic carnage become clearer, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are discussing a fourth coronavirus relief bill, with Democrats calling for aid for cities and states and the Republican leader of the Senate demanding reopening businesses be given protection from COVID-related lawsuits.

Asked at a White House event whether Americans should be given more aid given skyrocketing unemployment, Trump suggested it may not be needed.

“We’re talking about that, but we’ve given a lot of stimulus,” Trump told reporters.

“I think your going to see economic numbers that are going to be fantastic. I believe it very strongly,” he added, saying he expected the economy to pick up in the third quarter and close out the year on a very strong note.

Hassett, speaking to reporters after his televised interview, said the president would likely make a decision next week on whether he thinks the economy needs a further near-term lift.

“We’re in a stormy sea and we’re building a bridge to the other shore and we’ve got to get there,” he said on Fox.

Hassett called a forecast for a sharp economic rebound in the second half of the year from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “very optimistic,” but said he hoped it would prove accurate.

He said, however, the administration would be ready with policies to propose if the economy needed more stimulus.

“If the virus continues to be a problem throughout the summer, then it’s going to be a very, very heavy lift ... to keep the economy going at the rate that we’re used to,” Hassett told reporters.

“We don’t know that the best case is what’s going to happen.”

Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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