Historic $2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill Nears Finish Line, But Hurdles Remain

Mitch McConnell gives the thumbs-up sign in the Senate Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offers a thumbs-up on Wednesday. Getty

The White House and the Senate announced they had reached an agreement on an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

The Senate moved toward a vote Wednesday on an unprecedented, $2 trillion relief package designed to breathe life into the nation's gasping economy as businesses and residents struggle to cope with the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Senators and the White House announced in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that an agreement had been reached on the largest stimulus package in American history.

But as the day progressed, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanded revisions to help his state cope with its coronavirus cases, which are rapidly increasing. 

Three Republican senators insisted on an immediate change to a provision they said would encourage people to not return to work.

House Democrats, meanwhile, provided no schedule on when they would vote on the pending legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York had announced a breakthrough in negotiations at about 1:30 a.m. after long hours of grueling talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other Trump administration officials.

“Today, the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm. Nobody thinks legislation can end this. We cannot outlaw this virus,” McConnell said Wednesday. “This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief."

The mammoth price tag is equivalent to 9 percent of the nation’s entire gross domestic product. It would give direct financial aid to individuals, hospitals and businesses, according to officials.

The bill includes more than $377 billion for small businesses, $150 billion for local and state governments and $130 billion for hospitals, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A contentious allocation of $500 billion to shore up companies affected by the virus remains in the latest version of the bill. Democrats had bitterly argued against it, saying it amounted to a "slush fund" for big businesses.

The new legislation bars any of the funds from being doled out to firms controlled by President Trump, White House officials or members of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the new stimulus package represented a fair compromise between political parties. 

"We think the bill has moved sufficiently to the side of workers," she said Wednesday.

It was not clear, however, when the House would take up the bill. Pelosi said her party needed time to examine the final version.

“House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action," she said.

The stimulus bill would include direct payments of $1,200 or less to most adults, and expansions of unemployment benefits.

Millions of Americans have been told to stay away from school and work to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and several states have stay-at-home orders in effect that have shuttered businesses. 

The one-time payments could begin as early as April, officials said. The amount each person receives would be based on their 2018 tax filing, and would decline gradually after hitting $75,000 in income for individuals or $150,000 in income for married couples filing jointly. 

Single people earning $99,000 or above, and married couples making $198,000 or more, would receive no payment. Parents would receive an additional $500 per child, according to officials.