White House, Congress agree on $2 trillion virus rescue bill

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, speaks with reporters as he walks to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday.

A historic bill passed the Senate late Wednesday night with a unanimous vote of 96-0, which is set to provide $2 trillion of financial relief to Americans, hospitals and businesses across the country in the hopes of stimulating a struggling U.S. economy in the wake of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

As it stands under the bill, Americans making under $75,000 a year will receive a one-time direct payment of $1,200, and a $250 billion expansion of the unemployment insurance program will go into effect, with the federal government giving jobless workers $600 a week for up to four months, in addition to any state unemployment assistance.

“In terms of who gets the direct payments, basically it’s anyone paying taxes,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who stressed the need to get the bill passed as soon as possible.

“We have to have direct support for people who need it right away...it’s vitally important that (the bill) moves as fast as it can,” he said.

This piece of legislation is the largest emergency aid package in U.S. history and is expected to come before the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote Friday morning, with President Donald Trump indicating he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

Dr. Dennis Plane, professor of politics at Juniata College, predicts the bill will be signed by the end of the day Friday.

“We don’t really know, but my guess is it will reach the president’s desk tomorrow,” he said. “Both sides, both parties are under tremendous pressure to do something. So even if it’s not the perfect bill, it shows that Congress is taking action and that will probably be enough to pass...Any legislation that is drafted in three or four days will have issues, but I think Congress will say we can live with problems for the greater good.”

This bill was only accepted by the Senate after days of intense negotiations, with Senate Democrats blocking procedural votes Sunday and Monday, saying they wanted more oversight for funding and more safeguards for workers.

The deal also provides $140 billion to support the U.S. health system, both directly to the hospitals and to supply protective equipment to health care works, testing supplies and increase workforce training.

“We can’t even begin to say we’re on the right track until we have the pandemic itself in a place. We at least need to push it back and can’t do that without sustained investment in health care,” said Casey.

Also under the bill, testing and any future vaccines for COVID-19 will be covered at not cost to patients.

Large corporations will be allotted $500 billion in loans and other investments, which will be overseen by a special oversight board and the inspector general.

“The big business fund, which is important to have, will have a lot more transparency than what Republicans proposed,” said Casey.

Small businesses stand to receive significant financial aid, as well.

“The small business number is a substantial $377 billion in total when you add up all the parts of it, that was a part where there was bi-partisan support, not as far as the number, but in the initiative,” said Casey.

Additionally, $150 billion will be set aside for state and local governments.

“We’re in better shape now, but we have to work on another bill that will have lots of ideas to debate,” said Casey.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

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