Leaders in the United States [aljazeera.com] Senate raced to unravel last-minute snags Wednesday and win passage of an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and healthcare systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is the largest economic relief bill in history, and both parties' leaders were desperate for quick passage of a bill aimed at the coronavirus [aljazeera.com] that is costing lives and jobs by the hour.
[...]The package is intended as a weeks-long or months-long patch for an economy spiralling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide.
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.
[...] McConnell and Schumer hoped passage of the legislation in the Republican-led Senate would come by the end of the day. Stocks posted their first back-to-back gains in weeks as the package took shape over the last two days, 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.
Senate passage would leave final congressional approval up to the Democratic-controlled House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the bipartisan agreement "takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people" but she stopped short of fully endorsing it.
"House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action," she said.
House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber is unclear.
House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for President Donald Trump's signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington. But that may prove challenging, as the bill is sure to be opposed by some conservatives upset at its cost and scope. Ardent liberals were restless as well.
White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway Wednesday, shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. The wording of some final pieces of the agreement needs to be completed.
The sprawling, 500-page-plus measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.
It would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367bn programme for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
One of the last issues to close concerned $500bn for guaranteed, subsidised loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
[...] Five days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress's top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they manoeuvred and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure was never an option, which permitted both sides to mark big wins.
"That Washington drama does not matter any more," McConnell said. "The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today."
[...] The bill 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.
A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks at Schumer's insistence. Republicans pressed for tens of billions of dollars for additional relief to be delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal disaster agency.
Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600 per week add-on, with gig workers such as Uber drivers covered for the first time.
Schumer said businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials - including Trump and his immediate family members - would be ineligible for the bill's business assistance.
[...] A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46bn White House proposal to more than $300bn, which dwarfs earlier disasters - including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy combined.
To provide transparency, the package is expected to create a new inspector general and oversight board for the corporate dollars, much as was done during the 2008 bank rescue, officials said.