Senate coronavirus bill includes union protection measure

Daniel Fowler
March 26, 2020

It needed 60 votes to pass.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged the House would not be able to pass the Senate bill by unanimous consent - a process she wanted to use to avoid calling members back to the Capitol as more lawmakers are self-quarantining due to exposure to the virus. It is meant to flood the economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems. "We (Congress) do have to do more, but that would be no reason to stop this step that we are taking", Pelosi said on CNN, adding that she hoped the Federal Reserve would do more for states.

The bill seeks to provide $367 million in loans to distressed small businesses and grant them an "employee retention" tax credit so that they can keep employees on payroll and cover half of their paychecks.

Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, said after the agreement was reached that the "the president and his team look forward to swift action for urgently needed assistance to the American people and powerful aid to the nation's economy as we work through this crisis".

Senate leaders noted the historic nature of the challenge posed by the coronavirus, which the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called "a odd and evil disease".

A birthday party is believed to have spurred a super-spreading event as there were attendees who went back home to NY, the hardest-hit state in the U.S. Workers building a makeshift morgue outside of Bellevue Hospital in NY. To protect members from the risks of exposure, the House will hold a voice vote on the bill.

Graham is one of a handful of Republican senators who raised objections to an unemployment compensation provision in the bill.

It also includes a $340 billion supplemental package to combat the outbreak itself, including $117 billion for hospitals, $45 billion for FEMA's disaster relief fund and $11 billion for vaccines, therapeutics and other medical needs.

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The deal comes after days of intense negotiations and false starts among McConnell, Schumer and Mnuchin. "It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here", he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

This is the third piece of bipartisan legislation this month to address the coronavirus pandemic, with two emergency stimulus bills already signed into law.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed.

The plan also includes several Democratic oversight initiatives. Among those, it creates a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee loans to businesses.

Interestingly, the bill has provisions that would block Trump and his family members, as well as other top government officials and members of Congress, from accessing loans or investments from Treasury programmes in the stimulus package.

Schumer also said that hundreds of billions would be spent on Democratic priorities, including the expansion of unemployment benefits, money for hospitals as well as more funding for cities and transportation.

The Senate convened at noon (1700 GMT), but nine hours later it had yet to schedule a vote, even though McConnell insisted senators would "pass this historic relief package today".

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Republicans were tepid about the package, but Trump endorsed it and it ultimately passed Congress with the support of 90% of lawmakers in both chambers.

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