WASHINGTON: United States Senate and White House have reached agreement on a gargantuan $2 trillion stimulus package for the economy and millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus crisis.
“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, hailing the massive “wartime level of investment into our nation” reached after five days of arduous and tense negotiations.
“We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said shortly after McConnell spoke. “So many people are being put out of work through no fault of their own. They don’t know what their future is going to be like, how are they going to pay the bills,” Schumer added. “Well, we come to their rescue.”
The Senate and House of Representatives still need to pass the legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature. McConnell said the Senate will vote on the measure later Wednesday.
The deal aims to support the economy by giving roughly $2 trillion to health facilities, businesses and ordinary Americans facing the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. This will put cash directly into the hands of Americans hard hit by the crisis, provide grants to small businesses and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for larger corporations including airlines.
It also proposes the injection of around $130 billion into what Schumer calls “a Marshall Plan for hospitals” and health care infrastructure, referring to the huge American aid program to rebuild Europe after World War II. With infection numbers rising from coast to coast, hospitals have been in dire need of equipment like protective gear, intensive care beds and ventilators.
McConnell and Schumer negotiated the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other White House officials after days of bitter partisan fighting over what to put into the final package. Mnuchin had shuttled between the Capitol offices of the Senate’s leaders as they and staffers hammered out the language of the bill.
The agreement followed multiple failed attempts to advance a proposal and pressure had soared to swiftly reach a compromise. President Donald Trump called for an immediate resolution to the stalemate. “Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” he said on Twitter. “The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!”
Democrats rejected the original package, arguing that it put corporations ahead of workers, including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has infected 55,000 and killed nearly 800 in the US alone.
Any relief package that passes the Senate will need to clear the Democratic-led House too before going to Trump. 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.
According to Schumer, the compromise legislation includes an oversight mechanism for the company loans, and will guarantee that laid-off workers “on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”
Pelosi suggested the measure might even pass the House by unanimous consent but getting 435 lawmakers to swallow a rescue package without debate could be an uphill proposition in a sharply divided chamber.