Congress Closes in on a $2 Trillion Coronavirus Deal
Congressional negotiators and the Trump administration are nearing a bipartisan agreement on a massive coronavirus relief bill totaling nearly $2 trillion — a spending package that would be far and away the largest in U.S. history. Lawmakers were reportedly reviewing legislative language, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expected to announce the deal as soon as Tuesday evening ahead of a Senate vote that could be held within hours.
“The Senate bill would direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to most children, create a $500 billion lending program for companies, states, and cities, and extend another $367 billion to help small companies deal with payroll problems,” The Washington Post reports. “It would bolster the unemployment insurance system, and pump $150 billion into U.S. hospitals. The bill more than doubled in size in just a few days, amounting to the largest emergency stimulus package in American history.”
Schumer said that Democrats had secured large increases in funding for hospitals as well as an unemployment insurance provision that would have the federal government cover up to four months of full salaries for furloughed workers, who could continue to get health benefits from employers.
Some differences reportedly remain, though, and the situation is fluid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of her party in an afternoon conference call that she was still holding out for a 15% increase in food stamp benefits and more comprehensive insurance coverage for testing, according to Roll Call. Pelosi reportedly indicated that Democrats were also pushing for more money to help employer pension plans avoid insolvency in the coming years. Other last-minute issues could also delay a deal.
One major sticking point had been a $500 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund” to help distressed corporations and industries, including airlines and cruise ship operators. The plan as proposed by Senate Republicans would have allowed the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of companies taking federal money, and the amounts involved, for up to six months. Democrats had pressed for greater transparency and oversight of the program, including tougher restrictions against the money being used for stock buybacks and executive compensation and protections to keep companies taking federal help from laying off workers.
Asked on Monday who would oversee the program, President Trump said, “I’ll be the oversight.” That’s precisely what Democrats had feared — that the program, left entirely to the discretion of the Treasury secretary, could turn into no-strings-attached corporate handouts or be politicized, with money directed toward favored companies or industries.
“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters. “We’re here to help workers, we’re here to help hospitals. And right now what the Republicans proposed does neither of those.”
In the end, under Tuesday’s agreement, the $500 billion program will reportedly include an inspector general confirmed by the Senate and an oversight committee, similar to the structure of the Troubled Asset Relief Program created during the financial crisis.
High hopes for help: Stocks surged on hopes of a deal, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring more than 11%, its biggest one-day jump since 1933. But it’s still not clear just how effective the unprecedented infusion of federal cash will be at stemming the rapidly developing public health and economic crisis — or how much more federal help will be needed.
What’s next: If the Senate votes on the stimulus bill Tuesday night, the House could potentially approve the package by unanimous consent, a process that would allow for speedy passage and let House members stay away from Capitol Hill. But a single objection from any of the 435 House members would require lawmakers to come back for a floor vote. Either way, Congress is likely to have to take up one or more additional coronavirus-related economic packages.
We’ll have more details on the stimulus bill on Wednesday.