By Joshua Jamerson, Andrew Duehren and Natalie Andrews
WASHINGTON -- The Senate late Wednesday moved towards voting on
an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package designed to shield the
economy from the ravages of the new coronavirus pandemic, after the
effort hit snags earlier in the day.
The Senate was expected to vote Wednesday night on the mammoth
bill, though the procedure was delayed when rank-and-file members
voiced objections while lawmakers were finalizing the bill's full
The legislation would provide direct payments to many Americans,
drastically expand unemployment insurance, offer hundreds of
billions in loans to both small and large businesses, refill
drained state coffers and extend additional resources to
"A fight has arrived on our shores," said Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on the Senate floor. "We did not seek it.
We did not want it. But now, we are going to win it."
But as Senate leaders rushed to move the bill through the
chamber swiftly on Wednesday, protests from Republican lawmakers
over the unemployment provisions in the bill threatened to draw out
the process further. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a Democratic
presidential candidate, said he would slow down the bill, if the
group of Republicans did not withdraw their threat, creating a
high-stakes standoff in the final stages of the negotiations.
At the White House, President Trump said that lawmakers were
"very close" to passing the deal, which he praised as a boon to
American workers. "I will sign it immediately," he said. Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at a White House briefing
he still expected the bill to pass the Senate Wednesday night.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said 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
The legislation will provide one-time checks of $1,200 to
Americans with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals
and $150,000 for married couples. Individuals and couples are
eligible for an additional $500 per child. The government rebates
will be pared by $5 for each $100 of income over those thresholds,
completely phasing out for individuals whose incomes exceed
$99,000, $146,500 for head of households with one child, and
$198,000 for joint filers who don't have children.
Eligible U.S. residents must have a work-eligible social
security number to receive such a check and must not be claimed as
a dependent by another taxpayer, according to Senate documents.
Unlike an earlier proposal crafted by Senate Republicans, the
payments won't be set at a lower level for some low-income
The checks will be available to those who have no income as well
as people who rely on income benefit programs, such as supplemental
security income from the Social Security Administration.
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. The agreement is
set to increase current unemployment assistance by $600 a week for
The legislation hit a snag on Wednesday when a group of Senate
Republicans attempted to amend the legislation to remove the $600
extra weekly payment for those receiving unemployment insurance
because it could result in people getting more money while out of
work than they did in their jobs.
"This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,"
said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). He, along with a few others,
attempted to amend the legislation.
The $600 across-the-board increase was a bipartisan agreement,
reached several days ago and was done because every state has a
different unemployment program and creating a program for each
state would take too much time, aides from both parties said.
"Some workers, some, may end up coming out ahead...I'm not going
to stand here and say that I feel badly about that," said Sen. Dick
Durbin (D., Ill.). "Let's give them that helping hand and not
apologize for it for a minute."
The Senate is also poised to approve $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. Under
the new program, loan money that small businesses use to cover
payroll expenses, rent, interest on mortgage obligations and
utilities will be forgiven. The legislation would also provide
billions in debt relief on existing loans.
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.
The corporate aid portion also includes $17 billion for
assistance to companies deemed to be crucial to national security,
which could include firms such as Boeing Co. and General Electric
"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
Boeing has been seeking at least $60 billion in public and
private aid for itself, its suppliers and the broader aerospace
The latest version of the legislation also would give grants of
$25 billion for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for air-cargo
carriers and $3 billion for contractors. The money is on top of
loans and loan guarantees available through the Treasury. The
airlines had sought such direct grants, but initially had been
rebuffed by Republicans.
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
Expanded telehealth, higher Medicare reimbursement for doctors
and hospitals, and a delay in certain Medicaid cuts to hospitals
are part of the coronavirus package focused on health-care needs
during the crisis.
The package would ensure states can get a 6.2% increase in
matching federal funds for Medicaid and delay scheduled reductions
to hospitals that care for a large share of uninsured or low-income
patients. Payments hospitals get for treating patients infected
with the virus would also be increased by 20%.
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.
Democrats also secured a provision in the agreement that bans
businesses controlled by Mr. Trump, the vice president, members of
Congress and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or
other funds from the stimulus bill. Children and spouses of those
people are also banned, according to a senior Democratic aide.
The Senate bill would appropriate $25 million to the Kennedy
Center for deep cleaning, increased teleworking capabilities, and
operating and administrative expenses to ensure the Washington
performing arts venue can resume normal operations immediately upon
reopening, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street
Journal. At a White House briefing, President Trump said he
approved of the Democratic request, saying the center has "suffered
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.
Richard Rubin, Siobhan Hughes and Stephanie Armour contributed
to this article.
Write to Joshua Jamerson at email@example.com, Andrew
Duehren at firstname.lastname@example.org and Natalie Andrews at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 25, 2020 21:58 ET (01:58 GMT)
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