WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.
FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of marathon talks.
“The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said as the chamber convened at noon EDT (1600 GMT).
It was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to Trump to sign into law. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.
Trump supports the measure, the White House said.
“We’re really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.
The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.
It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.
It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state was not nearly enough. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. cases.
“This doesn’t do it,” he said at a news conference.
The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,650.
The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.
U.S. stocks were mixed in choppy trading after a strong rebound on Tuesday and a rise in early trading on Wednesday, as optimism about the coronavirus package waned, with investors still concerned about the lasting economic hit from the pandemic.
The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.
“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.
House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so.
If just one of the chamber’s 430 current members objects, that could require them to return to Washington to vote in person at a time when several members are self-quarantining. Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval – leading to further delays.
Trump said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.
That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert, Susan Cornwell and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis