WASHINGTON – The White House and Senate leaders struck a major deal early Wednesday morning over a $2-trillion package to provide a jolt to an economy struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, capping days of marathon negotiations that produced one of the most expensive and far-reaching measures in the history of Congress.
“Ladies and gentleman, we are done,” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland said right before 1 a.m. after leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office following negotiations that have gone around the clock since last Friday. “We have a deal.”
McConnell formally announced the agreement on the Senate floor, saying, “At last, we have a deal. After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.”
The majority leader described it as “a war-time level of investment for our nation,” and said that the Senate would move to pass it later in the day on Wednesday. The Senate will re-convene at noon. An exact time has not yet been set for the vote.
The full details have yet to be released. But over the last 24 hours, the elements of the proposal have come into sharper focus, with $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.
The stimulus bill also has a provision that would block President Donald Trump and his family, as well as other top government officials and members of Congress, from getting loans or investments from Treasury programs in the stimulus, according to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office.
The package, if it passes Congress, would be the most significant legislative action taken to address the rapidly intensifying coronavirus crisis, which is overwhelming hospitals and grinding much of the economy to a halt.
Schumer called it “the largest rescue package in American history,” in remarks on the Senate floor in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “This is not a moment of celebration — but of necessity,” he said.
The plan will deliver a massive infusion of financial aid into a struggling economy hard hit by job loss, with provisions to help impacted American workers and families as well as small businesses and major industries including airlines.
Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, called the package “the single largest main street assistance program in the history of the United States” at a White House briefing on Tuesday.
“This legislation is urgently needed to bolster the economy, provide cash injections and liquidity and stabilize financial markets to get us through a difficult and challenging period in the economy facing us right now,” Kudlow said.
Under the plan as it was being negotiated, individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 — and an additional $500 per each child. The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children.
While the final bill text hasn’t been released, some of the areas have been debated behind closed doors for days. There was intense partisan debate over the $500 billion proposal to provide loans to distressed companies, with $50 billion in loans for passenger air carriers. Democrats contended there was not enough oversight on how the money would be doled out, but the Trump administration agreed to an oversight board and the creation of an inspector general position to review how the money is spent.
Negotiators also discussed providing four months of unemployment benefits, extending to self-employed workers. Also, the bill would ensure the Small Business Administration could serve as a guarantor for loans of up to $10 billion for small businesses to ensure they can maintain their payrolls and pay off their debts.
In addition, the bill would provide a major amount of funding for hard-hit hospitals — $130 billion — as well as $150 billion for state and local governments that are cash-strapped due to their response to combat coronavirus.