AGREEMENT ON STIMULUS $2 TRILLION
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Senate Democrats have reached a deal with the Trump White House and Senate Republicans on a massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that is targeting relief toward America’s workers, hospitals, industries, and state and local governments.
“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said early Wednesday morning. “After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.” McConnell added the Senate will vote on the bill later in the day.
Though the preceding days had been filled with tense negotiations that occasionally erupted into public shouting matches on the Senate floor, lawmakers worked relatively quickly for Congress as they responded to an unprecedented economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and White House Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met six times on Monday alone, working until the early hours of the morning on Tuesday to hammer out a deal. In a statement, Schumer said he was pleased with the result.
“Rather than accept such a fundamentally flawed, partisan bill, Senate Democrats have been working hard on a bipartisan bill with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Trump,” Schumer said. “I am pleased to report that our hard work has paid off.”
The final product is so large in part because it contains both Republican and Democratic proposals: $500 billion in federal funding for big businesses and municipalities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as a direct one-time cash payment to Americans and four months of expanded unemployment insurance.
Schumer, the lead Democrat negotiating, appeared on the Senate floor early Tuesday afternoon to announce Democrats were closer to a deal after securing several key provisions, including expanded unemployment insurance for laid-off workers, and oversight on that $500 billion loan program for businesses.
“Last night, I thought we were on the five-yard line. Right now, we’re on the two,” Schumer said. “At this point, of the few outstanding issues, I don’t see any one that can’t be overcome within the next few hours.”
Now that a deal has been reached, McConnell will likely move quickly to get the bill to the floor and passed Wednesday. McConnell spent the beginning of the week signaling impatience and frustration with Senate Democrats, whom he blamed for unnecessarily holding up the process after they shot down two procedural votes to move the bill forward.
Democrats, meanwhile, blamed McConnell for cutting them out of the beginning of the bill drafting process and not bringing them in until Republicans had put forward their opening bid.
By Tuesday afternoon, both Democratic leaders and McConnell had struck a more conciliatory tone. Appearing on multiple television shows this morning and afternoon after releasing her own $2.5 trillion bill on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was confident a deal could be struck in the Senate. And McConnell echoed the same sentiment.
“Today, the Senate can get back on track. Today, we can make all of the Washington drama fade away,” McConnell said. “If we act today, what Americans will remember, and what history will record, is that the Senate did the right thing.”
Now that a deal has been reached, the Senate will likely move with urgency to get it across the finish line with a vote. Then, it still must clear the House, where Democrats have been discussing passing the bill by unanimous consent — both to expedite the bill’s passage and to protect members by keeping them at home.
There is still a ways to go until the bill lands on President Donald Trump’s desk ready to be signed, but the biggest hurdle has now been cleared.
What the plan includes
- A $500 billion loan program for businesses: The biggest sticking point between Democrats and Republicans throughout the negotiations was $500 billion worth of emergency loans both for large businesses and municipalities grappling with the coronavirus outbreak. For instance, $50 billion of that money was allotted to passenger airlines, according to the Washington Post.
Rather than trying to negotiate that figure down, Democrats instead negotiated to have strings attached to it. Instead of giving the Trump administration broad discretion to make the loans, Schumer and Pelosi said there will likely be a new inspector general in the Treasury Department specifically to oversee these funds, as well as a congressional oversight panel to examine how the money is being used.
A slew of additional conditions, championed by progressives and supported by the public, including a requirement for companies to implement a $15 minimum wage, have not made it into the final legislation.
- “Unemployment insurance on steroids”: Schumer announced Monday afternoon that unemployment insurance will be expanded to grapple with a new surge in claims, calling it “unemployment insurance on steroids.” The new bill will increase unemployment insurance by $600 per week for four months. This money is in addition to what states pay as a base unemployment salary. This benefit would extend to gig economy workers, freelancers, and furloughed workers who are still getting health insurance from their employers, but are not receiving a paycheck.
- Expanded funds for hospitals, medical equipment, and health care worker protections: In a statement, Schumer reported to Senate Democrats that the latest bill will contain $150 billion for hospitals treating coronavirus patients. Of that money, $100 billion will go to hospitals, $1 billion will go to the Indian Health Service, and the remainder will be used to increase medical equipment capacity.
- Increased aid to state and local governments: Schumer also said about $150 billion of federal money would be allocated for state and local governments who are dealing with the impacts of the crisis in their local communities, including $8 billion for tribal governments.
- Direct payments to adults below a certain income threshold: The legislation would include a one-time $1,200 check that would be sent to most adults making $75,000 or less annually, according to past tax returns. A $500 payment would also be sent to cover every child in qualifying households. The final policy marks a significant change from the direct payments initially proposed by Republicans, which would have given less to many individuals who do not have taxable income. It now includes the majority of adults who are under the $75,000 threshold and phases the payment out as people’s incomes increase.
- Loans to small businesses: There would be $367 billion in the bill aimed at providing loans for small businesses, according to the Washington Post.
What comes next
The Senate still needs to approve the deal in a vote, when 60 lawmakers will have to vote in favor of it to pass. That will happen Wednesday, McConnell told reporters.
The package will then head over to the House, where Democrats also have their own $2.5 trillion economic stimulus bill, which Pelosi unveiled on Monday. In order to proceed expeditiously, it’s quite possible the House will simply take up the Senate deal, rather than going to conference to hash out differences between the two chambers.
If so, its next challenge will be figuring out how best to vote on it.
Given the fact that many House members are currently working remotely, there’s the possibility that lawmakers approve the legislation via a process known as unanimous consent, when a bill is able to pass as long as no one objects to it, even if most members aren’t physically present.
House Rules Chair Jim McGovern has urged his colleagues to consider unanimous consent or voice voting with the members who are present, instead of remote voting.
If lawmakers were to go the unanimous consent route, that means that a single lawmaker who’s physically present could object to the bill’s passage and potentially delay proceedings even further. Previously, for example, Rep. Louie Gohmert had threatened to object to another legislative package that focused predominantly on expanding paid sick days and paid leave benefits to a subset of workers, though he ultimately relented.
It’s possible another lawmaker could voice this type of opposition again, though they would likely face immense pressure from both the public and their colleagues not to do so. Despite this scenario, remote voting isn’t being considered just yet.
As ABC News reports, one of the concerns raised about remote voting is that it contradicts policies that have been laid out in the Constitution regarding how Congress should convene in person. Some lawmakers have worried, too, that it could set a concerning precedent for other votes that take place down the line. While the possibility could pick up momentum if it appears necessary in the weeks to come, it’s not expected to happen this week with the stimulus bill.
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