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By a vote of 96-0, Senate passed a massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus compromise package just before midnight on Wednesday, ending days of deadlock and sending the bill to the House of Representatives — where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said there will soon be a “good debate on the floor” over the historic measure to bring relief to individuals, small businesses, and larger corporations.
The 880-page legislation is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.
The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.
The package would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. After a $75,000 threshold for individuals, the benefit would be reduced by $5 for each $100 the taxpayer makes, per Page 145 of the bill. A similar $150,000 threshold applies to couples, and a $112,500 threshold for heads of households.
The legislation passed by the Senate will use 2019 tax returns, if available, or 2018 tax returns to assess income for determining how much direct financial aid individuals receive. Those who did not file tax returns can use a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement or Form RRB-1099, a Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement, per Page 149 of the bill.
The bill omits many — though not all — items from Pelosi’s version of the legislation that Republicans had called wasteful or irrelevant, including climate-change related emissions restrictions for airlines and various diversity-related provisions.
But, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and the House of Representatives would still each receive $25 million, and unions will likely benefit from provisions requiring many small businesses to stay out of union organization efforts. Those line items galled conservatives when Pelosi first floated them over the weekend, but President Trump signaled earlier in the day that they amounted to necessary compromises to move the bill along.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks outside her office on Capitol Hill, Monday, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would vote on the matter on Friday.
“Over the past few days, the Senate has stepped into the breach,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in his own remarks. “We packed weeks or perhaps months of the legislative process into five days. Representatives from both sides of the aisle and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have forged a bipartisan agreement in highly partisan times, with very little time to spare.”
He added: “It’s been a long, hard road, with a remarkable number of twists and turns, but for the sake of millions of Americans, it will be worth it. It will be worth it to get help to millions of small businesses and save tens of millions of jobs.”
Earlier in the day, a senior GOP source told Fox News contributor and Townhall.com editor Guy Benson that the compromise bill was a face-saving exercise by Schumer, and that he was trying to “take credit” for a GOP bill that he filibustered for “small ball” alterations. Democrats, the source said, couldn’t drag the situation out much longer; economic conditions have worsened dramatically, and President Trump’s approval rating has risen.
A senior Republican aide separately told Fox News: “I half expected that the next thing I read would be the Minority Leader taking credit for inventing fire. The reality is that almost every significant ‘win’ he’s taking credit for, is actually a Senate Republican idea.”
“Over the past few days, the Senate has stepped into the breach.”
— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republicans had “never objected” to more hospital funding, or that oversight of the stimulus stabilization fund “be structured almost exactly like TARP oversight,” the aide went on. And Republicans were the first to push for three months of unemployment insurance and “did not oppose adding a fourth.”
Just before voting on the final package began late Wednesday, the Senate was debating an amendment from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to bar people from getting more from new unemployment benefits than they would have received on the job; the amendment needed 60 votes and failed 48-48.
Gone from the stimulus bill are mentions of mandatory early voting, ballot harvesting, requirements that federal agencies review their usage of “minority banks,” and provisions curbing airlines’ carbon emissions — a Pelosi demand that even Saikat Chakrabarti, the former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and an author of the Green New Deal, called “ridiculous.”
“What’s not in the Senate’s bipartisan coronavirus bill: Pelosi’s outrageous wish list,” wrote GOP national spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington. “0 mentions of ‘diversity.’ 0 mentions of ’emissions.’ 0 mentions of ‘early voting.’ 0 mentions of ‘climate change.’ Good!”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. gives a thumbs up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, where a deal has been reached on a coronavirus bill. The 2 trillion dollar stimulus bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
At the same time, the bill satisfied some of Pelosi’s policy goals. Page 524 of the bill text indicates that many businesses that take a government loan would be obligated to remain neutral in any “union organizing effort” during the loan — a major giveaway to unions. Affected businesses would have between 500 and 10,000 employees.
And, Page 781 of the bill provides $25 million to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to cover “salary and expenses.”
Also in the final bill text, $25 million would still be allocated for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Trump, speaking at the White House coronavirus briefing earlier Wednesday, said that he understood the provision was necessary because Democrats demanded some concessions in order to get the stimulus bill passed.
Pelosi was the first to demand the money in her own bill, which Republicans said was full of unseemly payouts for well-connected special interests at a time of national crisis.
The Kennedy Center put out a statement Wednesday evening saying it was “extraordinarily grateful that Congress has recognized our institution’s unique status and has included funding in its legislation to ensure that we can reopen our doors and stages as soon as we are able.”
Aside from direct payments to most Americans, the bill would expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
The movement came as stocks posted their first back-to-back gains in weeks, but much of Wednesday’s early rally faded as the hitch developed in the Senate. The market is down nearly 27 percent since setting a record high a month ago.
John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts shot at dusk across the Potomac in Georgetown
Amid the debate, presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders said he might try to torpedo the Senate’s stimulus package as Republican senators raised objections about what they called a “massive drafting error” related to unemployment benefits.
“In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation,” Sanders said in a statement, also posted on social media.
Sanders took to the Senate floor late Wednesday at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET to say he was concerned that the administration would be able to “expend $500 billion in virtually any way they want” under the legislation. In fact, the administration would not have such unilateral control.
“They’re very upset that somebody who is making 10, 12 bucks an hour might end up with a paycheck for four months more than they received last week,” Sanders went on. “Oh, my god, the universe is collapsing!”
The concern from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, R-S.C., Sasse, and Rick Scott, R-Fla., was that the the bill could pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they’d make in salary, by sticking a $600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income.
Democrats and economists have countered that the point of the new unemployment benefit is, in fact, to make peoples’ salaries whole, and that companies could simply raise wages to compete and attract workers.
“The weird thing about this hypothetical ‘generous unemployment pay will discourage people from entering critical industries’ is… they could just raise wages?” Alex Godofsky wrote on Twitter. “Amazon has already raised wages. Like, it’s okay if wages – and prices – go up for a while. It’s fine.”
Others have noted that the unemployment benefits boost would expire in the summer. In an article entitled “Republican Senators’ Objection to Expanded Unemployment Benefits Makes Little Sense,” Josh Barro began by noting that “these are unemployment benefits, and you generally have to have been laid off to claim them.”
“We will continue to have virus-mitigation measures that create mass unemployment for a significant period, and even after those measures can be relaxed through much of the country, it will take some time for employers to re-ingest all the previously laid-off workers,” Barro wrote. “In fact, it’s likely that the shutdowns will persist long enough that the enhanced benefits will need to be extended. If we’re in a situation by July where all the shutdowns are over and employers are eagerly hiring and our biggest concern is too many people don’t want to go back to work, I will be overjoyed and very surprised.”
Later Wednesday, the Republicans agreed to drop their objections to fast-tracking the stimulus vote, as long as there was first a vote on the Sasse amendment to cap unemployment benefits to 100 percent of salary.
Also in the evening, Pelosi said unanimous consent was a nonstarter in the House, and implied that quick passage in the lower chamber may be unrealistic. Pelosi has called for members to have at least 24 hours to review the bill text once it’s available.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, speaks with reporters as he walks to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
“That’s not gonna work,” she told reporters shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET, referring to unanimous consent. “Republicans have told us that’s not possible from their said. … What I’d like to see — because this a $2 trillion bill — I’d like to see a good debate on the floor.”
Meanwhile, the White House projected confidence. Insistently optimistic, President Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think it’s going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over. Yet he implored Congress late in the day to move on critical aid without further delay.
The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”
Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Jason Donner, and Fox Business Network’s Hillary Vaughn, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.