Commentary

Fighting Pandemic With Money, Senate Passes $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill

Overcoming heated partisan wrangling over unemployment payments and loans to distressed companies, the U.S. Senate early this morning unanimously passed the $2 trillion stimulus relief package negotiators had agreed upon the morning before. The vote was 96-0; four senators were missing due to illness or self-isolation.

“It will next go to the House for a vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Wednesday evening ahead of Senate passage that the House will convene at 9 a.m. on Friday to consider the relief package. The plan is to pass the bill by voice vote, a move that would allow the House to avoid forcing all members to return to Washington for a recorded roll call vote. President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the measure,” CNN’s Manu Raju, Clare Foran, Ted Barrett and Kristin Wilson write.

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“There was intense partisan debate over the $500 billion proposal to provide loans to distressed companies, with $50 billion in loans for passenger air carriers. Democrats initially contended there was not enough oversight on how the money would be disbursed, but the Trump administration agreed to an oversight board and the creation of an inspector general position to review how the money is spent,” they add.

“Even the fine print in a near-final 880-page version of the bill has fine print. Democrats proudly announced that they had won agreement on language to block President Trump, other government officials and their families from receiving assistance from a $500 billion fund to be administered by the Treasury Department,” Eric Lipton and Kenneth P. Vogel write  in The New York Times.

“But it turns out that the provision might not preclude funds from going to companies owned by the family of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, while Mr. Trump’s companies would not be barred from benefiting from other elements of the bill intended to help broad swaths of American business,” Lipton and Vogel continue.

“For passenger airlines, the bill includes $25 billion in direct funding for worker salaries and benefits, as well as up to $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees. The bill hews to what airlines had been asking for. Carriers had lobbied aggressively for direct grants rather than just loans, warning that without an immediate infusion of cash, they would have to make sharp job cuts," The Wall Street Journalreports  in its breakdown of “how households, businesses, taxes and more are affected by the package.”

“This is not a corporate bailout; it’s a rescue package for workers,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, maintained, according to the WSJ report.

“The legislation would send direct payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000 -- which would gradually phase out for higher earners and end for those with incomes more than $99,000 -- and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, extending them for the first time to freelancers and gig workers, and adding $600 per week on top of the usual payment,” The New York Timesreports  in its “Live Updates” coverage.

“Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said checks could go out about three weeks after final passage, although that could be delayed,” Christal Hayes, Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King write  for USA Today.

“The massive package aims to offer a financial lifeline to Americans and businesses that are hurting while also offering reassurance to the markets, which have seen some of its worst days in decades due to the virus’ impacts on the economy. Efforts to mitigate its spread has left businesses closed and many Americans out of work,” they add.

“The Senate rejected an attempt by four Republican senators to change boosted unemployment benefits included in a mammoth coronavirus stimulus package. Senators voted 48-48 on an amendment that would cap unemployment benefits at 100% of an individual's salary before they were laid off. Sixty votes were required for the amendment to pass,” Jordain Carney writes for The Hill.

GOP Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) pushed for the changes to the coronavirus aid bill over concerns that the agreement … would ‘incentivize’ individuals not to return to work.”

“We cannot encourage people to make more money in unemployment than they do in employment,” Scott says in this clip retweeted by Johnny McNulty underneath the comment: “gee, I wonder why giving people enough to live on comes out to more than minimum wage?”

“The Senate’s most liberal and conservative members joined together to support the mammoth spending bill, illustrating how concerned policymakers have become about the health care strains and financial pain the country now faces,” Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane write  for The Washington Post.

“The legislation’s goal is to flood the economy with money at a time of financial near-chaos, with entire states on lockdown, many businesses closed and the numbers of infections and deaths from the coronavirus quickly on the rise.” 

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