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Senate Reaches Historic Deal On $2 Trillion Coronavirus Economic Rescue Package

By Kelsey Snell NPR

Updated at 9:02 a.m. ET

Senate leaders have struck a historic deal to inject the U.S. economy with about $2 trillion in aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal comes after days of intense negotiations and false starts among Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

McConnell, R-Ky., and Schumer, D-N.Y., announced news of a breakthrough on the Senate floor shortly after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“This is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” McConnell said. “The men and women of the greatest country on earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future, and the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it.”

The plan marks the largest rescue package in American history. The legislation covers an array of programs, including direct payments to Americans, an aggressive expansion of unemployment insurance, billions in aid to large and small businesses, and a new wave of significant funding for the health care industry.

“We’re going to take up and pass this package to care for those who are now caring for us, and help carry millions of Americans through these dark, economic times,” Schumer said.

The Senate is slated to vote on the package later Wednesday. House leaders have signaled an interest to approve the plan quickly, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement Wednesday, said she “will now review the legislative text of this agreement with our Caucus.” Many members are relying on highlights from the plan, and the legislative text of the bill has yet to be released to the public.

Last weekend, Democrats had walked away from bipartisan talks among senators in favor of negotiating more directly with Mnuchin and the White House to get a final deal that reflects more of their priorities.

McConnell chafed at the tactics but supported the end result. “It’s taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “If we act today, what Americans will remember, and what history will record, is that the Senate did the right thing.”

It’s the third piece of bipartisan legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic this month, with two emergency stimulus bills already signed into law. But this latest deal eclipses the earlier packages in scope and spending, and amounts to what could be the most ambitious economic rescue effort in American history.

The agreement is an expansion of a Republican legislative proposal issued last week, dubbed the CARES Act — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — to provide relief to virtually every rung of the U.S. economic ladder.

Earlier this week, Democrats delayed negotiations because they wanted to include more conditions on the loan fund for corporations, more money for hospitals and more generous unemployment benefits. Democrats secured concessions on all three in the final deal.

Among the deal’s key provisions:

  • The plan will rush financial assistance to Americans with direct checks to households in the middle class and in lower income levels, McConnell said. Previously, Republicans said this would amount to $1,200 to most American adults, among other payments.
  • An extended unemployment insurance program for laid-off workers that will allow for four months of “full pay,” according to Schumer, rather than the usual three months for most. It will also raise the maximum unemployment insurance benefit by $600 per week. It will apply to traditional workers for small and large businesses as well as those who are self-employed and workers in the gig economy. This was a key Democratic initiative, which Schumer dubbed “unemployment insurance on steroids.”
  • More than $150 billion for the health care system, including funding for hospitals, research, treatment and the Strategic National Stockpile to raise supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment. Of that, $100 billion will go to hospitals and the health system and $1 billion to the Indian Health Service.
  • $150 billion to state and local governments to address spending shortages related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • $350 billion for small businesses impacted by the pandemic in the form of loans; some of those loans could be forgiven.

The plan also includes several of Democratic oversight initiatives. Among those, it creates a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee loans to businesses.

It also prohibits businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from participating in the loan or investment programs, Schumer’s office said. In addition, the children, spouses and other relatives will also be banned, they said.

There are also provisions to ban stock buybacks for the term of government assistance plus an additional year for any company receiving a government loan from the bill. In addition, it establishes worker protections attached to federal loans for businesses and prohibits airlines from using the funds for CEO bonuses.

Schumer was backed up in negotiations by Pelosi, D-Calif., who returned to Washington on Sunday and called the initial McConnell proposal a “nonstarter.” House Democrats introduced a competing measure on Monday in the event a Senate deal collapsed.

Pelosi recently negotiated the second coronavirus package directly with Mnuchin and without McConnell’s involvement. That package, estimated to cost more than $100 billion, provided for new paid sick leave benefits and funds to expedite access to coronavirus testing. Republicans were tepid about the package, but President Trump endorsed it and it ultimately passed Congress with the support of 90% of lawmakers in both chambers.

Schumer has pledged that once a deal is reached, Democrats will not block expedited consideration. Congress can pass legislation by unanimous consent if no lawmaker objects. It is unclear whether they will be able to find that level of unity, but the urgency to vote and adjourn was widespread. Pelosi indicated in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday that she may try to get unanimous consent to clear the deal through the House chamber to save House lawmakers from flying back to Washington to pass it. House Republicans are strongly behind the measure, according to a senior GOP leadership congressional source.

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