White House, Senate leaders strike deal on $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package

Daniel Fowler
March 25, 2020

USA lawmakers scrambled Tuesday to seal a deal that buttresses the teetering economy by giving roughly $2 trillion to hospitals, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are done", White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland told reporters just before 1 a.m.

As the USA braces for an onslaught of sick Americans, and millions are forced indoors to avert a spike that risks overwhelming hospitals, the most ambitious federal intervention in modern times is testing whether Washington can act swiftly to deal with the pandemic on the home front.

The stimulus package would provide direct cash payments to the American public, loans to small businesses, aid to hard-hit industries and more resources to the stressed health care system.

A key sticking point has been a $500 billion "Exchange Stabilization Fund" that Democrats have labeled a "slush fund".

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, made the rounds on the morning talk shows and said she was optimistic about the deal Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin have been negotiating around the clock. The Senate leaders had earlier said that a deal was close. "The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy", Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. Schumer said he expects the bill will provide four months of full salary payments for people who lose their jobs because of the coronavirus. "We're trying to finish it up tonight", he said.

The optimism, shared by Republican leaders and Mnuchin, was a ray of hope after vicious partisan infighting over how to craft what ultimately may be the largest emergency rescue package lawmakers have ever passed.

Before the vote, however, Pelosi announced that she wanted to draft her own plan instead of presiding over House feedback to the Senate version, leading to the vote deadlocking at 47-47.

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Any relief package that passes the Senate will need to clear the Democratic-led House too before going to the president's desk.

The sense of optimism extended to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who told CNBC: "I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours".

At least 23 states have enacted policies to close nonessential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus on USA soil. His suggestion that the pandemic could ease and allow a return to normalcy in a mere few weeks is not supported by public health officials or many others in government.

The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems.

"This is a national crisis", McConnell said on the floor earlier.

Congressional and White House officials said Tuesday a deal appears to be at hand to provide sweeping aid to businesses and workers facing ruin from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump's stance in the face of the virus once again shifted beginning Sunday night and continuing at a Monday news conference.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, Harris said: "We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential".

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