Senate OKs $2T coronavirus stimulus package in unanimous vote; House sets Friday vote
By: By Gregg Re | Fox News
By a vote of 96-0, the Senate passed a massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus compromise package just before midnight Wednesday, ending days of deadlock and sending the bill to the House of Representatives -- which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said will soon take up the historic measure to bring relief to individuals, small businesses, and larger corporations "with strong bipartisan support."
"96-0 in the United States Senate," President Trump wrote on Twitter. "Congratulations AMERICA!"
The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough. The vote capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike any it has ever faced. Unemployment numbers were set to be revealed Thursday morning, and experts warned they could reach alarming new highs.
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 married couples 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. 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 .
Further, the bill allocates $250 billion to extend unemployment insurance to more workers, and lengthen the duration to 39 weeks, up from the normal 26 weeks. $600 extra a week would be provided for four months. (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.)
The final package would additionally provide $349 billion in loans to small businesses -- and money spent on rent, payroll and utilities becomes grants that don't need to be paid back. Many hotels would qualify as small businesses under the plan.
Passenger airlines would receive $25 billion for workers' "salaries and benefits," plus up to $25 billion more in loan guarantees and loans. Contract workers would also receive $3 billion in assistance. Airlines would have to agree not to furlough workers until at least the end of September in return.
About $17 billion will go to other distressed companies like Boeing, which is seen as essential to national security. And, approximately $200 billion would be provided in tax assistance to small businesses, including through payroll tax deferrals.
At the same time, 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.
Gone from the stimulus bill are mentions of mandatory early voting, ballot harvesting , requirements that federal agencies review their usage of "minority banks," and attempts to curb 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!"
But, the package still contained some wins for Pelosi. 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, even though it galled some conservatives.
Pelosi was the first to demand the Kennedy Center 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."
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would vote on the matter on Friday. Republican leaders said they'd whip votes to support the bill.
"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."
However, 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.
And, 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."
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."
The stimulus 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.
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.
“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.