Senate passes coronavirus economic rescue bill

shutterstock 1600398577 US Capitol building. | Michail Makarov/Shutterstock

The Senate reached a bipartisan agreement early Wednesday morning on a rescue package for the U.S. economy as part of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the $2 trillion "the largest rescue package in American history," while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was a "historic relief package for this pandemic."

Funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion providers was a sticking point in the negotiations on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. McConnell and Republicans had inserted a provision stating that non-profits already receiving federal funding-such as Planned Parenthood's Medicaid reimbursements-would be ineligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

The final text of the legislation had not yet been published on Wednesday morning.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has quickly spread in the U.S., with more than 55,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. With states already closing non-essential businesses and many Americans staying home, there has been a surge in unemployment claims.

McConnell last week introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as a stimulus measure, the third major piece of legislation taken up by Congress to respond to the new coronavirus.

An agreement on the package was delayed after the Senate twice failed to start the process of passing the CARES Act on Sunday and again on Monday.

Democrats initially opposed advancing the legislation because of insufficient worker protections and opposition to a so-called $500 billion "slush fund" for corporations overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, among other reasons. Democrats tried to add other policy items, such as tax credits for renewable energy, to the package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, introduced her own legislation, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, on Monday.

Pelosi did not say on Wednesday if she would support the Senate bill, but praised Democratic efforts "to move the Republican proposal from corporations-focused to workers-first." She said the House Democratic Caucus would review the text of the legislation.

Some members have already announced their opposition to the bill, including Independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) who tweeted that the agreement "does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare" and "widening" economic inequality.

Schumer outlined four "pillars" of the legislation: a $130 billion "Marshall Plan" for hospitals, nurses and physicians, nursing homes and health centers; salary remuneration for all workers laid off because of the pandemic, and an oversight board and inspector general for loans made to corporations; $150 billion for state and local governments, and "real help for small businesses."

The Senate on Wednesday afternoon is scheduled to resume consideration of the legislative vehicle for the stimulus bill.

House leadership, meanwhile, is reportedly considering a procedural move for passing legislation via unanimous consent as members are outside Washington, D.C. and in their respective districts, and some members are self-quarantining during the pandemic.

"Unanimous consent" to pass legislation could be thwarted by a single member coming to the House Floor and voicing their opposition.

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