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Senator Mark Warner on stimulus rollout: 'We’ll have a product before the end of the week'

Lawmakers are running out of time to pass another stimulus deal. Virginia Senator Mark Warner joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to "Yahoo Finance Live." You know, we've stressed here the updates we've gotten out of Washington DC on the stimulus front have not necessarily led to much, but this week seems to be a bit different, with the deadline looming over a stopgap government funding bill here approaching at the end of the week. And the latest reports out of Washington DC seems to be indicating that both Republicans and Democrats are coalescing around a $900 billion stimulus deal that could include additional direct checks for many Americans.

They're, of course, building off the bipartisan push we saw a couple of weeks ago in that $908 billion proposal both pushed by Republicans and Democrats. And here with the latest on that is our next guest, Senator Mark Warner, from Virginia, alongside Yahoo Finance's Jessica Smith with us as well.

Senator Warner, I appreciate you coming on here to chat with us off this. Of course, that-- that push from Republicans and Democrats there around that $908 billion proposal was the bedrock for kind of getting both sides to come back together, saying that now is the time for something like this, before the holiday break. So talk to me about where you see kind of both sides coming together on this and what we should be expecting to see in the final package.

MARK WARNER: Well, first of all, we got very frustrated, the bipartisan group, that we have been basically sitting for months, doing nothing. People had a right to be angry, frustrated. We knew we were headed into the holiday season with people potentially losing their unemployment the day after Christmas, people getting kicked out of their apartments January 1 or 2, small businesses, frankly, stretched to the breaking point.

So a group of us Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate members, but particularly out of the Senate, said, you know, to heck with it. Let's do our own plan. We came up with a $908 billion plan that included all of these key areas, unemployment, broadband, small business relief, food relief for food banks, rental assistance.

We could not get to the final point in terms of two issues, which were, one, assistance for state and local government. As a Democrat, I thought, you know, laying off a million people at local government and state levels was not smart. My Republican colleagues wanted to make sure there was appropriate liability protections. I was sympathetic to that for businesses that did the right thing, but we-- I think we broke the logjam.

The so-called leadership and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin came in. I think they've reworked the plan a little bit to include $600 direct payments for folks who make less than $75,000 a year, $150,000 a year for a couple. So we were not opposed to the direct payments, we just thought that shouldn't take precedence over unemployment payments. But I do think there will be some direct payments.

I don't think, unfortunately, there will be the state and local government assistance, nor will there be the liability protection, since we could not reach agreement there. But I think the balance of the bill will look like the bipartisan framework that we put forward, that we came forward, actually, on Monday, with our full legislative text. Best news, I guess, final point is best-- best news is we're not going to be Scrooge for Christmas. You know, the American people who want us to get something done, I think we're going to have a product before the end of the week.

JESSICA SMITH: You know, we did hear from Senator Sanders, who said he would block a government funding bill if it didn't-- if this relief package did not include direct payments. Do you think that $600 to $700 range for these checks will be enough to satisfy Senator Sanders and the progressive caucus in the House?

MARK WARNER: Well, you know, we had this strange mix of Senator Sanders and Josh Hawley, kind of an odd couple in DC. And I don't think there's very much progressive about the idea that if we're going to try to give checks to people who have had no economic harm if you're taking it out of the hide of people that frankly, are unemployed, or you're taking it away from food banks, and you're taking it away from mental health assistance. Lots of folks dealing with mental health challenges pandemic-wise. I don't think that's progressive at all.

So if there was a-- if-- if-- if in some imaginary world, we could have added checks on top without taking away the targeted relief to those most in need, I'd be all for that. Unfortunately, I think if we end up with this package, it will have checks at a smaller amount. But the price of that was, frankly, taking away any and all assistance to state and-- state and local governments, which, by the way, have laid off a million and a half cops, firefighters, teachers already, because they've got enormous budget shortfalls.

I'm not sure that was the right policy choice. But if we get ourselves to the finish line, so be it. But I guess Senator Sanders will have to answer to those governors and mayors who-- who saw their assistance taken away.

AKIKO FUJITA: Senator, when you think about how the negotiations have progressed over the last few months or so, there seem to be a thinking, among the Democratic leadership at least, to hold out for something bigger instead of going for a smaller package in anticipation of something more. And you highlighted those two key issues that Republicans and Democrats did hold out for. One is liability protections, the other is state aid.

That's not included in this bill. So should we be looking at this as a stopgap measure that could-- in hopes of getting a bigger stimulus done in the new session, with the new administration? How are you looking at that possibility?

MARK WARNER: Well, let's break that down. I mean, I think we need state and local government assistance. I think there's also a legitimate case to be made for appropriate liability protections for businesses that did the right thing. I'm disappointed we couldn't finally bridge that gap.

But to somehow say this bill, which is going to be close to $900 billion, this will be the second largest financial package in American history. This package is bigger than the tarp relief after the 2008 crisis. Not as big as the CARES package last March.

But even in Washington speak, $900 billion is a lot of money. When President Biden comes in, I would-- obviously, I'm open to additional stimulus or additional funding, but I don't think anyone should look down their noses at a $900 billion relief package coming for a four-month period in the midst of this crisis.

JESSICA SMITH: I know the leadership is working on finalizing this-- this package. Have you heard what some of the sticking points that they're still trying to hammer out are?

MARK WARNER: Well, I'm-- I am concerned that there may have been some willingness to take away some of the increased unemployment benefits. I mean, my feeling is, you know, this ought to be targeted to those people in need, those folks who, for the first time in their lives, are in, you know, at a food bank, those folks who are in jeopardy of losing their homes, those small businesses that have, frankly, exhausted all their resources.

And I think part of that are for folks that are unemployed. We wanted to make sure we continued not only traditional unemployment, but the unemployment for the gig workers, independent contractors. And while this unemployment bump up is not at the level it was in the first CARES bill, we did think that $300 a week, similar to what President Trump had proposed in the fall, was a good compromise.

I will be disappointed if-- if the price of some of those stimulus checks to people who have not seen any economic harm is less money for the unemployed. But at the end of the day, if-- if this ends up being at that $900 billion amount or range, again, we're looking at the second largest financial package in our country's entire history. So this is a-- a solid product that really is focused on the next four months.

JESSICA SMITH: While we have you, we wanted to switch gears just a bit. You are the top Democrat on the Intel Committee. And this week, we did find out that several federal agencies had been hacked. There's a lot of reporting saying that Russia was behind this. Can you tell us anything more about the scope of this hack? And if this was indeed the Russians, what needs [INAUDIBLE] going forward?

MARK WARNER: Well, first of all, I think it is clear that this was a nation state. I don't think our government has made a formal attribution, but a nation state like Russia clearly has been-- whether it's been trying to hack into our elections, whether it's been hacking into people's personal account and releasing that information in a way that's detrimental, again, during our election process, these are Russian tactics.

And-- and they are cheap and extraordinarily effective. I sometimes feel like, you know, we-- we spend too much time investing in tanks and ships and planes, when the battlefield of the 21st century will continue to be cyber and protection of intellectual property, and Russia's very good in this area. I think we've got-- we need a, frankly, a liability regime. We need a national data breach standards, so there is a requirement for reporting.

The reports are not only have we seen our national government agencies penetrated, but we've also seen one of the world-class organizations, FireEye, which is, candidly, one of the best cyber security organizations in our country, penetrated as well. And I-- I do want to give CyberEye a shout out-- I'm sorry, FireEye a shout out, because they did report the hack as soon as it was discovered. Too often, governments or private sector companies don't want to report their penetrations. That leaves us more vulnerable.

One thing that is also curious on this issue is while Mr. Trump is out tweeting away about elections fabrications, he has still not made a critical comment about Russia, about their potential hacking of a number of our key government agencies, and that is more than a little bit disappointing.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, no question, the issue of cybersecurity, one you will continue to focus on as the co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus. Senator Mark Warner, it's great to have you on today. I really appreciate your time. And our thanks to Jessica Smith as well for joining in on the conversation.

MARK WARNER: Thank you all.