The Senate on Wednesday agreed to an unprecedented $2 trillion emergency bill to send aid to businesses, workers and health care systems overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill includes cash payment of up to $3,400 for families of four making less than $150,000 a year. Single adults will receive payments of $1,200.
“We need to get this done so we can get cash to people who need the money as soon as possible,” Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday in his weekly conference call from Washington.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin estimates that payments could be made within the next two to three weeks.
“That’s about as fast as you can expect it to get to people who need it the most,” Cornyn said.
The bill stalled in Congress over the weekend as Democrats sought more protections for workers and added riders that included several Green New Deal proposal ranging from subsidies for wind power to cutting airline emissions.
“What in the hell does that have to do with this crisis?” Sen. Ted Cruz said during a fiery speech on the Senate floor Monday.
Democrats were successful in negotiating more spending on the emergency bill, but the riders were removed.
“I think they should be ashamed of themselves,” Cornyn said.
The package is the largest economic rescue bill in history. It is intended as a weekslong or monthslong patch for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. At least one case has been confirmed in Nacogdoches County, and two cases have been confirmed in Rusk County as coronavirus continues to spread.
Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.
“A fight has arrived on our shores,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We did not seek it, we did not want it, but now we’re going to win it.”
“Big help, quick help, is on the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
But not enough, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other. “I’m telling you, these numbers don’t work.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said the package “goes a long way.” He said it requires strong oversight to ensure the wealthy don’t benefit at the expense of workers and proposed forgiving at least $10,000 of student loan debt as part of the federal response.
McConnell and Schumer said passage of the legislation was expected in the Republican-led Senate by the end of the day. After a banner day on Tuesday as the package took shape, the stock market rallied even more on Wednesday.
That would leave final congressional approval up to the Democratic-controlled House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bipartisan agreement “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people” but she stopped short of fully endorsing it.
“House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action,” she said.
House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber is unclear. Several GOP House members, including Rep. Louie Gohmert, had urged the lower chamber to remain in Washington and forgo recess, like the Senate.
House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for President Donald Trump’s signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington. But that may prove challenging, as the bill is sure to be opposed by some conservatives upset at its cost and scope. Ardent liberals were restless as well.
The sprawling, 500-page-plus 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.
It would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.