By Joshua Jamerson and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers and the Trump administration reached an agreement on an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at shielding the U.S. economy from the worst consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation, which congressional officials were set to continue to write throughout the early morning Wednesday, will provide direct financial checks to many Americans, drastically expand unemployment insurance, offer hundreds in billions in loans to both small and large businesses, and provide health care providers with additional resources as the virus spreads.
"This is a wartime level of investment into our nation," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in the early hours of Wednesday after the two sides had reached a deal. "The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future. And the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it," he said.
Mr. McConnell said the Senate would move to vote on the massive bill later on Wednesday, setting up a rapid approval of legislation that dwarfs the annual discretionary budget Congress spends much of the year crafting and approving. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Tuesday she hoped to quickly approve the eventual Senate agreement, though objections from lawmakers could slow the process in that chamber.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had spoken to President Trump about the agreement and that Mr. Trump would "absolutely" sign it as it is written today. "He's very pleased with this legislation, and the impact that this is going to have," Mr. Mnuchin said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said the bill had been "improved substantially" since Democrats joined the negotiations. "To all Americans I say: Help is on the way, big help and quick help," Mr. Schumer said.
The deal was announced several hours -- and into the wee hours of the next day -- after a stock market rally for the ages. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its largest single-day gain since 1933 on news Tuesday that a deal was coming together. Signs of a major injection of cash into the economy appeared to give investors some solace as the U.S. reported an uptick in confirmed Covid-19 cases and braced for unemployment claims, which are reported this week, that are expected to have soared.
Days of frantic negotiations on Capitol Hill between Senate Democrats and Republicans and the Trump administration produced an agreement less than a week after first Mr. McConnell introduced an opening offer. Lawmakers spent the weekend in Washington in dayslong marathon sessions to reach a deal, and Democrats twice blocked procedural steps as talks continued.
While the final terms of the bill remained under wraps early Wednesday, lawmakers had been eyeing sending one-time checks worth $1,200 to many Americans, with $500 available to children, with the assistance capped above certain income levels.
Those payments would be in addition to a broad expansion in unemployment benefits, which would be extended to nontraditional employees, including gig workers and freelancers, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations. The agreement is also set to increase current unemployment assistance by $600 a week for four months.
The Senate is also poised to approve $350 billion in loans to small businesses in an effort to keep Americans on payrolls as economic activity across the country comes to a standstill.
A major challenge in the negotiations was roughly $500 billion in corporate aid, much of which will go toward backstopping Federal Reserve loans. The Treasury Secretary will have the authority to directly lend a slice of those funds, and Democrats had sought to place controls on the money. The agreement will create a new inspector general and oversight board to oversee the aid.
Mr. Schumer wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats Wednesday morning that the legislation will also invest $150 billion in the health care system, already straining to respond to the quickly expanding number of infections across the country, and send $150 billion to state and local governments saddled with costs related to the virus. Those funding increases are among several lawmakers had intended to include in the package.
In the same letter, Mr. Schumer said the legislation included a ban on stock buybacks for any company receiving a government loan from the stimulus package. The ban lasts the term of the government assistance plus 1 year.
While both the senate leaders expressed confidence the measure would quickly pass the Senate as soon as Wednesday afternoon, it was less clear how quickly it could clear the House.
Mrs. Pelosi has said that she wants to pass the bill by unanimous consent -- meaning she doesn't have to recall members back to Washington from their districts for a floor vote.
But earlier Tuesday some of her Democratic colleagues expressed concern about what exactly was in the Senate bill, and Mrs. Pelosi herself said the quicker, unanimous consent option wasn't a given. House Democrats introduced their own $2.5 trillion rescue plan that gave more generous direct payments to many Americans, and some House Democrats have indicated they prefer that bill.
Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi will now likely spend the coming days selling the agreement to other Democrats, with Mr. Schumer claiming victory on a number of fronts in the negotiations.
House Republicans, for their part, seem to have come on board with the Senate bill -- despite complaints that Democrats were aiming to insert unrelated proposals like environmental protections into the stimulus package. One senior GOP House aide said Tuesday afternoon that there was strong Republican support for the bill. The aide said that though there was a "very real possibility" that one House member objects to passage via unanimous consent, it was also possible no Republican would do so.
Swift passage of the $2 trillion package would be the third time a deeply divided Congress had acted to pass legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks. Lawmakers also quickly passed an $8.3 billion bill funding vaccine development efforts, among other issues, and a bill expanding paid leave measures that was estimated to cost more than $100 billion.
Write to Joshua Jamerson at email@example.com and Andrew Duehren at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 25, 2020 03:41 ET (07:41 GMT)
Copyright (C) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.