KEY POINTS

  • Democrats had been holding up the measure since Monday, pushing to shift funds from corporations to individuals
  • Democrats also demanded oversight on the $500 billion allocated for major corporations like airlines
  • Republicans said they feared the generous unemployment benefits would encourage people not to work

Last-minute objections threatened to derail the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package approved by the Senate leadership and White House early Wednesday, with some Republican senators objecting to expanded unemployment coverage.

The historic measure would send direct checks to taxpayers, expand unemployment insurance and provide help to both large and small businesses to ease COVID-19's impact on the economy.

The Senate had been expected to vote on the measure. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said it would put a hold on the bill unless the objections to expanded unemployment are dropped so restrictions on funds for corporations could be strengthened.

"In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation," Sanders said in a statement.

Sanders made his threat after Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tim Scot, R-S.C., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the expanded unemployment benefits would encourage people not to work.

"Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work. ... We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working," Graham, Sasse and Scott, of South Carolina, said in a joint statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged colleages to approve the measure.

“A fight has arrived at our shores. We didn’t want it. We didn’t seek it. But we’re going to win it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor as he opened floor action at noon EDT, less than 12 hours after the deal was reached. He said he was proud of lawmakers who recognized the "nation had no time for political gamesmanship."

“Nobody thinks legislation can end this. You can’t outlaw a virus. … This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. … This fight is not going to be won or lost in Washington. It’s the American people who win this fight” by slowing the spread of the virus, he said.

Agreement was not a moment of celebration but rather a moment of necessity, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

“Like all compromises, this bill is far from perfect … but we believe it warrants quick consideration and passage,” he said.

“This is unique. It calls for unique leadership,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, adding senators have demonstrated they can work together.

“We decided in the span in about seven days to come up with a package … that is larger than a federal budget. We did in seven days what usually takes 12 months or longer.”

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, adding, “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action."

In 2020 dollars, the bill is nearly double the size of the 2009 Recovery Act passed in the wake of the financial crisis and nearly triple the 1933 New Deal approved at the depths of the Great Depression. It took two months to craft the 2009 bill while Franklin D. Roosevelt got 15 major bills through Congress in his first 100 days. The current measure was developed in a week.

It would provide $1,200 checks for taxpayers making less than $75,000 annually ($2,400 for couples making less than $150,000), smaller payments for those making $75,000 to $99,000 and nothing for those making more than $99,000. Qualifying families with children will receive $500 per child.

“Struggling Americans are going to go to their mailboxes and find four-figure checks. Why? Because the Senate stepped up,” McConnell said, adding the bill will keep businesses going and provide more medical equipment and funding for healthcare workers and hospitals.

The measure would provide $250 billion for unemployment payments, boosting the maximum benefit by $600 per week, extending coverage by 13 weeks and providing full salary for four months for laid off workers. Part-time, self-employed and free lance workers also would be covered.

Schumer characterized it as "unemployment insurance on steroids."

More than 3 million people are believed to have filed for unemployment as a result of coronavirus shutdowns.

The bill adds $15 billion for food stamps to cover new applicants, $9 billion for child nutrition and $23.5 billion for farmers and ranchers.

The measure also would provide $500 billion for major corporations like airlines, $367 billion for small- and medium-size businesses, $130 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments. An oversight board and inspector general would be set up to monitor how the funds to large corporations are distributed. The bill also would prohibit funds from going to any of President Trump’s companies or family members or to lawmakers. Stock buybacks also would be prohibited.

The bill would carve out $17 billion in aid for Boeing and $58 billion for the airlines. Some $25 billion would be allocated for public transit.

The agreement came just hours after Trump told a Fox News town hall he wanted to ease coronavirus guidelines by Easter, saying he thought the restrictions had gone too far. The vote comes after two failed efforts Monday as Democrats pushed for more aid to individuals rather than corporations.

More than 62,000 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the U.S., with the death toll climbing past 800. Numerous governors have ordered nonessential businesses closed, with several states under shelter-in-place orders. Thousands of businesses have told their workers to work from home, virtually emptying entire business districts.

McConnell said early Wednesday the deal “will rush new resources onto the front lines of our nation's historic fight and it will inject trillions of dollars of cash into the economy as fast as possible to help American workers, families, small businesses and industries it make it through this disruption and emerge on the other side ready to soar.”