Senate Passed Relief Bill
John Rice, NSA CEO
Washington, DC, March 26, 2020—Late Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the Senate passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package providing aid to businesses, workers, and health care systems, suffering from the huge economic effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The unanimous vote came with misgivings on both sides regarding whether the rescue went too far, or not far enough, and ended days of partisan negotiations that caused a delay until Wednesday night.
The 880-page bill is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was clearly somber and exhausted as he announced the vote. He then released senators from Washington, DC, until April 20; however, he made it clear that he would recall them if needed.
“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt."
This action is intended to provide relief for an economy rapidly approaching recession or potentially worse. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that he hoped that the bill would provide relief for up to three months; however, he then stated: “Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months."
To put perspective on the size of this bill, it provides finances to respond to our current crisis to the tune of half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.
There was a bi-partisan desire to speed the bill through the Senate but it was slowed as senators from states whose economies are predominately comprised of low-wage jobs sought changes to the legislation to give workers protections from the growing economic pressures on the lower end of the economy.
The measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to provide her support for the bill saying it, “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people."
The bill now moves to the Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday. House members are currently mostly in their home districts and this means that the timetable for votes in that chamber is unclear.
House Democratic and Republican leaders hope to clear the measure for Trump's signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington. Whether this will actually happen is unclear.
The package would give direct payments to the majority of Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses, enabling them to continue to make their payroll obligations while workers are forced to stay home by government restrictions.
The bill provides one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
The bill also includes a $500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines and hospitals.
The bill finally emerged after six days of contentious talks between Congressional leadership and the administration. At the end of the day, however, it appears that all parties got what they wanted, explaining the size of the package.
“Washington drama does not matter anymore,” McConnell said. “The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today.”
It is also expected that a huge cash infusion for hospitals will result from the bill that are expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients. The amount could be as large as $130 billion with another $45 billion funding additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
Additional Points of Interest:
- Relief package could help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed.
- Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600 per week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.
- Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials — including President Trump and his immediate family members — would be ineligible for the bill's business assistance.
- Republicans won inclusion of an “employee retention” tax credit that's estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers' paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.
- A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to $330 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters — including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.