Fri, 10 Apr 2020

US Senate to Vote on Coronavirus Rescue Aid

Voice of America
26 Mar 2020, 04:05 GMT+10

The U.S. Senate is set Wednesday to vote on a massive $2 trillion economic rescue package, the biggest in American history, to help businesses and most families cope with the economic plight wrought by the deadly coronavirus.

The White House and top congressional leaders reached agreement on the aid in the early hours of Wednesday after days of contentious negotiations.

Assuming Senate passage, the measure would then go to the House of Representatives. But the House is currently out of session, so approval in the chamber would either have to come from "unanimous consent," with all lawmakers agreeing to its passage, or absent that, lawmakers returning to Washington to vote in the coming days.

"In effect, this is a wartime level of investment into our nation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "Help is on the way."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the aid agreement "far from perfect," but urged its quick passage.

President Donald Trump's chief negotiator on the package, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said the U.S. leader would "absolutely" sign it into law once congressional action is completed.

"We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history," Schumer said. "This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity."

Among other provisions, the measure provides $500 billion in assistance to the hardest hit major U.S. companies, another $367 billion to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees and $250 billion to bolster state-run unemployment compensation funds as the ranks of the jobless have ballooned in the last two weeks.

Two weeks ago, 281,000 workers made new jobless compensation claims, but economists, ahead of the government's official tally on Thursday, say they believe that more than 2 million filed for assistance last week.

At a Glance: Nearly $2 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Package The details are subject to change as congressional leaders and the White House continue negotiating the nearly $2 trillion package

Another major plank of the aid package is aimed at helping most American families, with the government set to send about $3,400 to families of four -- a mother, father and two children - payouts that could cover about 90% of U.S. households. But officials said they do not expect to start sending the checks out until May.

Individual taxpayers would get $1,200 and couples $2,400, with aid ending for individuals earning more than $99,000 annually and couples $198,000.

Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, said, "This legislation is urgently needed to bolster the economy, provide cash injections and liquidity, and stabilize financial markets to get us through a difficult and challenging period in the economy facing us right now, but also to position us for what I think can be an economic rebound later this year."

Trump, who was consulted frequently by top lawmakers and Mnuchin as the aid package evolved in recent days, will not, according to Schumer, be able to benefit financially from the agreement.

Trump, a billionaire with vast hotel, golf resort and hotel holdings that have been sharply impacted by the global pandemic, and his family, top government officials and all 538 members of Congress were specifically written out of the coming business payouts.

Schumer said "any major figure in government" will not be able to benefit from the rescue package,

"That makes sense," Schumer told CNN. "Those of us who write the law shouldn't benefit from the law."

McConnell described the measure as good news for doctors and nurses in the U.S. who need more funding and protective equipment, such as masks to care for coronavirus patients.

Trump says he wants to restart the U.S. economy as quickly as possible as lockdown orders in many states have kept workers home and closed such businesses as restaurants, bars and movie theaters, as well factories employing thousands of workers.

On Tuesday, the U.S. leader said he hopes the country is "raring to go" by Easter Sunday, April 12, the Christian holy day. But medical experts voiced quick skepticism, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths rising by the hour.

The United States has about 55,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 700 deaths.

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