Senate passes $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package on unanimous vote

By ANDREW TAYLOR and LISA MASCARO | The Associated
Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled
$2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses,
workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus
pandemic.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about
whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of
difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national
challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S.
history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber
and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators
from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them
if needed.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is
meant to match a historic crisis,”said Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care
for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot
do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American
economy have ground to a halt.”

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. Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the
economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months.
Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

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.

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.

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. They settled for a failed vote to modify
the provision.

Other objections floated in from New York Gov. 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
additional coronavirus legislation 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, D-Calif., swung behind the
bipartisan agreement, saying it “takes us a long way down the
road in meeting the needs of the American people.”

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the
Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday.
House members are scattered around the country and the timetable
for votes in that chamber was unclear.

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.

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.

It includes a controversial, heavily negotiated $500 billion
program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries,
including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as
well.

Six 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.”

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of
$1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a
married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per
child.

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.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of
furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months
first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a
state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600 per week
add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first
time.

Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top
administration officials — including Trump and his immediate
family members — would be ineligible for the bill’s business
assistance.

Schumer boasted of negotiating wins for transit systems,
hospitals and cash-hungry state governments that were cemented
after Democrats blocked the measure in votes held Sunday and
Monday.

But Cuomo said the Senate package would send less than $4
billion to New York, far short of his estimate that the crisis will
cost his state up to $15 billion over the next year. More than 280
New Yorkers have died from the virus, a death toll more than double
that of any other state.

Still, Pelosi said the need for more money for New York is “no
reason to stop the step we are taking.”

Pelosi was a force behind $400 million in grants to states to
expand voting by mail and other steps that Democrats billed as
making voting safer but Republican critics called political
opportunism. The package also contains $15.5 billion more for a
surge in demand for food stamps as part of a massive $330 billion
title for agency operations.

Republicans won inclusion of an “employee retention” tax
credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that
retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up
to $10,000.

Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social
Security payroll tax.

A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing
from a $46 billion White House proposal to $330 billion, which
dwarfs earlier disasters — including Hurricane Katrina and
Superstorm Sandy combined.

Europe is enacting its own economic recovery packages, with huge
amounts of credit guarantees, government spending and other
support.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has agreed to commit over 1
trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in fiscal stimulus and support —
roughly 30% of that nation’s entire annual output. France, Spain
and Italy have launched similar programs.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate
symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three
weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing
health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including
pneumonia, or death.

In the United States, more than 55,000 people have been sickened
and more than 1,000 have died.

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Mary Clare
Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Padmananda Rama contributed
to this report.

Source: FS – All – Interesting – News 2
Senate passes .2 trillion coronavirus rescue package on unanimous vote