Legislation to provide direct financial checks to many Americans, expand unemployment insurance, offer health-care providers additional resources.
WASHINGTON—Congress readied to pass an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at combating the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, hours after legislative leaders and the Trump administration struck a deal.
The Senate plans to vote on the mammoth bill on Wednesday, though full text hasn’t been released. The legislation will provide direct financial checks to many Americans, drastically expand unemployment insurance, offer hundreds in billions in loans to both small and large businesses, refill drained state coffers and extend additional resources to health-care providers.
“This is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in the early hours of Wednesday after the two sides had reached a deal. “The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters Wednesday that she is “optimistic” about the legislation, and said no decision had been made about when the House would try to take up the legislation if it clears the Senate as expected.
The House is expected then to attempt quickly to pass the bill by unanimous consent, a procedure that enables the chamber to approve the legislation without lawmakers being present to vote. An objection from even a single member could slow the process. House lawmakers are currently on recess and scattered across the country.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has led negotiations on behalf of the White House, said he had spoken to President Trump about the agreement and that Mr. Trump would absolutely sign it as it is currently written.
The legislation will provide for one-time checks worth $1,200 to many individual Americans and $2,400 to married couples, with $500 extra for each child, with the assistance capped above certain income levels, according to lawmakers. Unlike the original Republican proposal, those payments will not decrease for low-income Americans, staying flat for eligible individuals and couples.
Those payments would be in addition to a broad expansion in unemployment benefits, which would be extended to nontraditional employees, including gig workers and freelancers, that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) had pushed for, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations. The agreement is also set to increase current unemployment assistance by $600 a week for four months.
As congressional officials completed the final text of the agreement, a group of Senate Republicans said they would block fast-tracking the legislation unless what they said was a “massive drafting error” was fixed in the unemployment portion of the bill.
The Senate is also poised to approve more than $350 billion in loans to small businesses in an effort to keep Americans on payrolls as economic activity across the country comes to a standstill.
A major challenge in the negotiations was $500 billion in corporate aid, much of which will go toward backstopping Federal Reserve loans. The Treasury Secretary will have the authority to directly lend a slice of those funds, and Democrats had sought to place controls on the money. The agreement will create a new inspector general and oversight board to monitor the aid.
““You can imagine there’s an awful lot of companies that can qualify for that,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said about that national-security fund, adding it should not be thought of as specifically for Boeing. A draft of the bill text doesn’t name any specific companies.
Boeing has been seeking at least $60 billion in public and private aid for itself, its suppliers and the broader aerospace industry.
The legislation will also create a new grant program to send $100 billion to health-care providers, already straining to respond to the rising number of infections across the country. An additional $16 billion will go toward building a stockpile of medical equipment, including personal protective gear that has become scarce.
Democrats said that the bill includes $150 billion to go directly to state and local governments saddled with costs related to the virus.
In a heated call with House lawmakers from his home state, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the state would get only $4 billion in direct aid as part of a package giving $150 billion to states, according to a person familiar with the call. He argued that state funding should be higher and that a separate pool of money in addition to direct state aid should be available for cities, given that deaths in New York City alone account for about a quarter of the country’s total. Under the bill, any money sought by an individual city would reduce the amount available to the rest of the state.
Mr. Cuomo said in his daily briefing: “$3.8 billion sounds like a lot of money ... but we’re looking at a revenue shortfall of $9, $10, $15 billion” in the state’s budget, on top of emergency response costs of $1 billion so far.
Mr. Schumer said the legislation included a ban on stock buybacks for any company receiving a government loan from the stimulus package. The ban lasts the term of the government assistance plus one year.
Republican senators appear to be on board with the changes.
“The bill will be very similar to what we proposed a few days ago, but with some more money that is regrettably going to be necessary to respond to this crisis and help keep our people safe. And ultimately get our economy back on its feet,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said on Fox News on Wednesday.
Once the bill passes the Senate, as expected, it will then go to the House, where Mrs. Pelosi has said that she wants to pass without having to recall members back to Washington from their districts for a floor vote.
Many lawmakers are wary about traveling and being exposed to coronavirus, and several are in self-quarantine and won’t be able to travel. Two House lawmakers and one senator have tested positive for the virus.
House Democrats must still review the bill, and some House Republicans are wary about the bill’s increase in the federal budget deficit and the rushed process by which it was drafted.
“It’s amazing that we’re talking potentially $2 trillion dollars and none of us have even seen it,” said Rep. Jody Hice (R., Ga.). He opposed the last coronavirus bill that Congress passed because of the rushed process.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday that Congress should move quickly to approve the bill.
Swift passage of the $2 trillion package would be the third time a deeply divided Congress had acted to pass legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks. Lawmakers also quickly passed an $8.3 billion bill funding vaccine development efforts, among other issues, and a bill expanding paid-leave measures that was estimated to cost more than $100 billion.