White House and Congress reach deal on $2 trillion virus rescue bill

Andrew Cummings
March 25, 2020

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the Senate that after almost a week of "arduous" negotiations that they now have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history but its passing is not a moment of celebration but of necessity to help Americans suffering medically and financially due to the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading throughout the country. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats for blocking two procedural votes that pushed back the timeline for passing the relief package.

"After five days of arduous negotiations, after sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiations - we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history", Schumer said on the Senate floor early Wednesday morning. However, no matter the sigh of relief the agreement on the rescue package brings, Schumer cautioned, "This is not a moment of celebration, but of necessity".

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.

But he later sounded more cautious, saying: "We'll only do it if it's good". This agreement to provide relief to American workers, families, and small businesses is critically important - and should be considered without delay.

He said it would provide a more than $130 billion "Marshall Plan", to fund the nation's hospitals and medical needs, and that it includes an unemployment compensation plan "on steroids" where every US worker who is laid off will have their salary remunerated by the federal government so they can pay their bills. Details of the package are still under wraps, but it appears that real estate agents - most of whom are independent contractors - are set to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

For individuals the package provides direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of US$1,200 for each adult, as well as US$500 for each child.

A Senate vote on the deal could occur quickly, with the House potentially following soon after. It could also lead to potential changes to the legislation that would have to be reconciled with the Senate.

Also, obviously, state and local governments can expect to see cratering sales tax revenue.

On Wednesday, the White House and leaders of both parties announced $2 trillion in emergency funding to help businesses, individuals, and hospitals weather the crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Those companies will also have to limit executive bonuses.

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' paychecks.

"So many people are being put out of work through no fault of their own".

The deal also includes "strict oversight, accountability and transparency" of all loans to "corporate America" enabled by the legislation, he said.

Some of Europe's fiscal stimulus kicks in automatically without any new legislation due to social welfare safety nets that are more extensive than in the U.S.

What comes next? The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon.

President Trump would need to sign it into law before people would receive their checks.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more generous, roughly $2.5 trillion counterproposal that included ambitious elements like guaranteed paid and family medical leave, student loan forgiveness and oversight of the $500 billion earmarked for corporations.

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