White House, Senate reach deal on massive $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill

By NBC News

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(NBC NEWS) – The White House and Senate leaders reached an agreement early Wednesday on a massive $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the outbreak.

“At last, we have a deal. After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced from the Senate floor shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday. “In effect, this is a wartime level of investment for our nation.”

McConnell said the Senate would vote on the legislation by the end of the day on Wednesday.

“The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today,” he said, addressing the chamber around noon on Wednesday. “Struggling Americans are going to go to their mailboxes and find four-figure checks to help with their bills. Why? Because the Senate stepped up.”

Overnight, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters that President Donald Trump would “absolutely” sign it if Congress passes it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor early Wednesday: “We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history. This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity.”

“Like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect, but we believe the legislation has been improved significantly to warrant its quick consideration and passage, and because many Democrats and Republicans were willing to do the serious and hard work, the bill is much better off than where it started,” he added.

In a letter to the Senate Democratic caucus, Schumer said that his members are ready to give unanimous consent to speed up consideration of the measure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday morning that the legislation “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” but she did not say whether or how the House would take up the legislation if the Senate passes it.

House Democrats would review the provisions of the measure “to determine a course of action,” she said.

Although the full text of the bill is not yet known, lawmakers indicated Tuesday that it would include the initial GOP proposal for direct cash payments to Americans.

Under the plan, people making up to $75,000 a year are expected to receive checks for $1,200. Couples making up to $150,000 would receive $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. The new agreement removed the phased-in provision that would have excluded lower-income Americans from receiving the full benefit.

The payments would decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 per individual or $198,000 for couples.

The bill is also expected to include roughly $100 billion in assistance for hospitals; $350 billion in assistance to small businesses; $500 billion in aid for corporations, including airline companies and cruise lines, that have been hurt by the outbreak; and about $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds.

Unemployment insurance would also be significantly bolstered for four months by increasing payments and extending the benefit to those who typically do not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers. Specifically, the bill would increase the maximum unemployment benefit that a state gives to a person by $600 per week and according to Schumer, “ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”

The agreement also would prohibit businesses controlled by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.

The White House first pitched a stimulus plan to Senate Republicans early last week and then McConnell introduced the Republican proposal last Thursday, giving lawmakers less than a week to negotiate a deal, draft legislative text and vote on a package.

Negotiations, however, came to a head over how much additional unemployment insurance should be extended, as well as aid for distressed corporations. Democrats, specifically, opposed what they called a $500 billion “slush fund” for big corporations, but the final deal includes oversight measures for that money. Schumer said the initial Republican plan would not have dedicated enough money to hospitals, and he called for a “Marshall Plan” for the health care system.

Senators, along with representatives from the White House, huddled in the Capitol over the weekend and early this week to hammer out a deal.

Legislation rarely moves this rapidly in Washington, especially a bill of this size. But both parties appeared motivated to act quickly as unemployment numbers continue to rise and more businesses are forced to close their doors.

Tensions flared earlier in the week as the White House and Republican leadership fell short of their goal to have a bill on the president’s desk by Monday.

Democratic leaders in the House, whose members are at home in their districts, are now deciding how they will vote on the bill. Two members announced last week that they had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, forcing a handful of their colleagues who had been in close contact to self-isolate for the recommended two weeks. House leadership was exploring voting by unanimous consent and other alternatives before the deal was announced.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced that he had also been diagnosed with the coronavirus, sending some colleagues who had been in close contact with him during negotiations over the weekend back home to self-quarantine.

If it passes, the spending package would be the third round of emergency legislation that Congress has approved to combat the outbreak. Lawmakers approved an $8.3 billion bill for health agencies and a roughly $100 billion bill aimed at providing free coronavirus testing, some paid leave and unemployment benefits, as well as additional Medicaid funding and food assistance.

The president signed the first two bills into law and is expected to sign the third bill, too.

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