The Senate has passed an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, clearing the way for the House to vote on the measure followed by President Donald Trump’s signature.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously by a vote of 96-0 late on Wednesday night after days of contentious debate and negotiations. ‘This is a proud moment,’ said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the vote was being finalized.
The 883-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, and both parties’ leaders were desperate for quick passage as the virus took lives and jobs by the hour.
The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
Most Americans making less than $75,000 as a single tax filer would receive a $1,200 direct payment under the bill. The payments would go out by direct deposit for those who have recently paid taxes or received tax refunds that way, but for others physical checks will be sent.
‘This is a proud moment,’ said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (above) as the vote was being finalized. The bill passed the Senate unanimously by a vote of 96-0
Trump and his point man on the bill, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, are seen at a briefing on Wednesday
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that direct payments will be disbursed as soon as April 6, experts say that payments sooner than May are extremely unlikely.
One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide.
It comes on a day of fast-moving developments in which:
- Dr Fauci said Americans should prepare for the outbreak to ‘become seasonal’
- Bill de Blasio predicted ‘half’ of city’s 8.6M residents would get coronavirus
- The NYC mayor warned against ‘false hope’ of lifting the lockdown at Easter
- Trump began to water down his prior statements about Easter end to shutdown
- Said some areas that were hardest hit would not be able to reopen that soon
- Wednesday marked deadliest day of the outbreak in the US with 200+ deaths
- US deaths have exceeded 1,000 and the total cases now stand at 68,000
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid package would keep the economy afloat, said: ‘We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won´t need this for three months.’
Senate passage leaves final congressional approval up to the Democratic-controlled House on Friday. House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber was unclear.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is seen on Wednesday night
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it ‘takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people
House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for Trump’s signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington.
Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, ‘I don´t think its going to end up being such a rough patch’ and anticipated the economy soaring ‘like a rocket ship’ when it’s over. Yet he implored Congress late in the day to move on critical aid without further delay.
Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.
But the drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states who economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of returning return to their jobs since they may earn more money if they’re laid off than if they’re working.
Other objections floated in from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic.
Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said, ‘I’m telling you, these numbers don’t work.’
Ardent liberals like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were restless as well, but top Washington Democrats assured them that a fourth coronavirus bill will follow this spring and signaled that delaying the pending measure would be foolish.
The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it ‘takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people.’
Working in tandem after days of feuding, McConnell and top Democrat Chuck Schumer had pressed for passage of the legislation in the Republican-led Senate by the end of the day.
Five days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress’ top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure is not an option, nor is starting over, which permitted both sides to include their priorities.
‘That Washington drama does not matter any more,’ McConnell said. ‘The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today.’
Dr. Fauci issues stark warning that coronavirus will ‘come back in cycles’ as Trump waters down his statements about reopening the country by Easter
Top government disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci issued a stark warning Wednesday that coronavirus may come back in cycles as the death toll in the United States hit 1035, with 252 people dying in a single day.
Speaking at the White House daily briefing the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that Americans should be prepared for the outbreak to ‘become seasonal’.
His caution came as Donald Trump appeared to soften his desire to lift the lockdown across the county by Easter. The president said he still wants to reopen within that timeframe but acknowledge not all states could meet his timeline.
Opening up the country at Easter rather than two weeks later could kill 450,000 more Americans, graphs published by The New York Times show.
Dr Fauci told reporters: ‘Would this possibly become a seasonal, cyclic thing? I think it very well might.’
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci issued a stark warning that coronavirus may come back in cycles as the death toll in the US hit 1035
The coronavirus expert explained that evidence of cases in ‘the Southern Hemisphere and southern Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere countries’ as they go into their winter seasons could lead to second cycles in America.
He said: ‘And if in fact they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we’ll get a cycle around the second time.’
Fauci said the possibility of a second cycle ‘totally emphasizes the need to do what we’re doing in developing a vaccine, testing it quickly, and trying to get it ready so that we’ll have a vaccine available for that next cycle’.
He offered optimism, saying he knows ‘we’ll be successful in putting this down now’, adding: ‘But we really need to be prepared for another cycle. And what we’re doing, I believe, will prepare us well.’
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, backed up Fauci Wednesday, adding: ‘We’re dealing with Cycle A right now.’
Discussing lifting the lockdown Trump acknowledged: ‘I’m not going to do anything rash or hastily — I don’t do that. But the country wants to get back to work.
‘There’s big sections of our country that are very, you know little affected by what’s taking place, then there are other sections that are very heavily affected. I would say by Easter we’ll have a recommendation.’
There are more than 68,000 confirmed coronavirus cases across the U.S. as of Wednesday evening; more than 1,000 people have died.
What’s in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package?
Loans and guarantees to businesses, state and local governments: $500 billion. Includes up to $50 billion for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo carriers, $17 billion for “businesses critical to maintaining national security.” Companies accepting loans may not repurchase outstanding stock; must maintain their employment levels as of March 13, 2020 “to the extent practicable”; and bar raises for two years to executives earning over $425,000 annually. Companies are not eligible for loans if top administration officials, members of Congress or their families have 20% control.
Small businesses: Includes $350 billion in loans for companies with 500 employees or fewer, including nonprofits, self-employed people and hotel and restaurant chains with no more than 500 workers per location. Government provides eight weeks of cash assistance through loans to cover payroll, rent and other expenses, much of which would be forgiven if the company retains workers. Also $17 billion to help small businesses repay existing loans; $10 billion for grants up to $10,000 for small businesses to pay operating costs.
Emergency unemployment insurance: $260 billion. Includes extra 13 weeks of coverage for people who have exhausted existing benefits. Also covers part-time, self-employed, gig economy workers. Weekly benefit increase of up to $600.
Health care: $150 billion. Includes $100 billion for grants to hospitals, public and nonprofit health organizations and Medicare and Medicaid suppliers.
Aid to state and local governments: $150 billion, with at least $1.5 billion for smallest states.
Direct payments to people: One-time payments of $1,200 per adult, $2,400 per couple, $500 per child. Amounts begin phasing out at $75,000 for individuals, $150,000 per couple.
Tax breaks: Temporarily waives penalties for virus-related early withdrawals and eases required minimum annual disbursements from some retirement accounts; increases deductions for charitable contributions. Employers who pay furloughed workers can get tax credits for some of those payments. Postpones business payments of payroll taxes until 2021 or 2022.
Department of Homeland Security: $45 billion for a disaster relief fund to reimburse state and local governments for medical response, community services, other safety measures. Extends federal deadline for people getting driver’s licenses with enhanced security features, called REAL ID, from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.
Education: $31 billion. Includes $13.5 billion for states to distribute to local schools and programs, $14 billion to help universities and colleges.
Coronavirus treatments: $27 billion for research and development of vaccines and treatments, stockpiling medical supplies.
Transportation: Includes $25 billion for public transit systems; $10 billion for publicly owned commercial airports, intended to sustain 430,000 transit jobs; $1 billion for Amtrak.
Veterans: $20 billion, including $16 billion for treating veterans at VA facilities; $3 billion for temporary and mobile facilities.
Food and agriculture: $15.5 billion for food stamps; $14 billion for supporting farm income and crop prices; $9.5 billion for specific producers including specialty crops, dairy and livestock; $8.8 billion child nutrition. Money for food banks, farmers’ markets.
Defense: $10.5 billion for Defense Department, including $1.5 billion to nearly triple the 4,300 beds currently in military hospitals; $1.4 billion for states to deploy up to 20,000 members of National Guard for six months; $1 billion under Defense Production Act to help private industry boost production of medical gear. Money cannot be used to build President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along Mexican border.
Social programs: Includes $3.5 billion in grants for child care and early education programs; $1 billion in grants to help communities address local economic problems; $900 million in heating, cooling aid for low-income families; $750 million for extra staffing for Head Start programs.
Economic aid to communities: $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help state and local governments expand health facilities, child care centers, food banks and senior services; $4 billion in assistance for homeless people; $3 billion for low-income renters; $1.5 billion to help communities rebuild local industries including tourism, industry supply chains, business loans; $300 million for fishing industry.
Native American communities: $2 billion for health care, equipment schools and other needs.
Diplomacy: $1.1 billion, including $324 million to evacuate Americans and diplomats overseas; $350 million to help refugees; $258 million in international disaster aid; $88 million for the Peace Corps to evacuate its volunteers abroad.
Elections: $400 million to help states prepare for 2020 elections with steps including expanded vote by mail, additional polling locations.
Arts: $150 million for federal grants to state and local arts and humanities programs; $75 million for Corporation for Public Broadcasting; $25 million for Washington, D.C., Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Congress: $93 million, including $25 million for the House and $10 million for the smaller Senate for teleworking and other costs; $25 million for cleaning the Capitol and congressional office buildings.