Senate vote expected on $2 trillion economic stimulus package

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WASHINGTON — The Senate returned Wednesday with plans to vote on a $2 trillion economic stimulus package — the largest in U.S. history — designed to pump money directly into Americans’ pockets while also shoring up hospitals, businesses and state and local governments struggling against the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite announcing a deal around 1 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, final legislative text, including many details of how the money will be spent, was not available by the afternoon.

The Senate vote has not yet been scheduled, but the bill is expected to pass there with large bipartisan support after five days of tense, marathon negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House and Senate Republicans. President Donald Trump indicated Tuesday night that he favored the bill, but he has not explicitly endorsed it.

The real test will be whether the House accepts the massive bill as it is, and can pass it with “unanimous consent,” a procedure usually reserved for small, noncontroversial bills. If a single member comes to the House floor and objects, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may have to recall House members to Washington for a vote that would inevitably draw out the process.

Democratic and Republican House leaders are hoping to avoid that, but it remains to be seen if they can. A House vote is unlikely before Thursday.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who left the Republican Party last year, called the package a “raw deal for the people” in a tweet shortly after it was announced, but clarified later in the day that he will not delay the bill by objecting to unanimous consent.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday he supports holding a voice vote, which would ensure House members don’t have to return if they don’t want to for health or safety reasons. A voice vote is generally determined by which side is the loudest, as determined by the member presiding over the House at the time. But the losing side often asks for a recorded vote, which would require Pelosi to recall House members from across the country.

“I do not believe we should pass a $2 trillion bill by unanimous consent,” McCarthy said.

Several House Democrats were also unhappy with the bill Wednesday, saying it helps business at the expense of people. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted that she is angry the Senate bill doesn’t help people whose water was shut off for lack of payment during the outbreak.

The $2 trillion price tag is equal to more than half the $3.5 trillion the federal government expects to collect in taxes this year. The package touches on major aspects of American life.

Along with providing a one-time payout of up to $1,200 for most American adults, the bill includes more than $377 billion for small businesses, $150 billion for local, state and tribal governments and $130 billion for hospitals.

The one-time payments to Americans, which Congress and the White House hope to have in people’s hands by early April, will be based on adjusted gross income reported in 2019 taxes — if they have been filed — or 2018 taxes if they have not. The amount will decline gradually beginning with individuals who made $75,000 or married couples filing jointly who made $150,000. Individuals making $99,000 or above or married couples making $198,000 or more would receive no check. People would receive an additional $500 per child.

Even those who have no income, whose income comes entirely from nontaxable benefit programs like Social Security or who file a tax return only in order to take advantage of the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, should get a check.

First proposed last week, the bill’s passage was delayed by days of negotiations that spurred angry speeches and uncharacteristic outbursts on the Senate floor. Republicans accused Democrats of dragging their feet and trying to squeeze pennies into the bill while the crisis mounted.

“We should have passed this last Sunday. Time was wasted,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday he’ll leave it to others to determine if Democrats’ changes were worth the delay.

“The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today,” McConnell said. “The Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm. This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief.”

Democrats say they won many changes that made the bill more beneficial to people hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. “To improve this legislation was worth taking an extra day or two,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

Included in the changes are:

— An expansion of who qualifies for unemployment insurance to include people who were furloughed, gig workers and freelancers. It included an increase in the unemployment payments by $600 per week for four months on top of what states provide as a base unemployment compensation, and extended the benefit for 13 weeks for people already collecting unemployment insurance.

— An additional $150 billion for hospitals, including $100 billion in grants that can be used by nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and other health care providers scrambling for medical supplies such as face masks, gloves and ventilators.

— An inspector general to oversee $500 billion in loans the Treasury Department will distribute to industries affected by the pandemic and a new five-person congressional committee to conduct oversight of the federal government’s spending on the COVID-19 response. The original bill left it to the Treasury Department to determine which businesses get loans and allowed it to wait up to six months to disclose where the money went.

— The bill would prohibit businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive branch departments from receiving loans or investments from the Treasury programs. Their children, spouses and in-laws also cannot benefit.

— $400 million for states to prepare for the 2020 elections, aimed at making it easier for states to move toward vote by mail and early voting. It does not require states to participate and is more than double the $140 million in the original bill.

— $25 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which is much closer to the $35 million Democrats asked for than the $1 million in the original Republican proposal.


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