Senate, White House reach $2tn Covid-19 rescue deal

Darnell Taylor
March 25, 2020

Negotiators seeking to hammer out the contours of a US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) coronavirus economic stimulus package were upbeat about the prospects for its passage through the US Senate, insisting they had made significant progress despite failing so far to reach a bipartisan deal on the sweeping legislation.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure.

On Wednesday, Tokyo's Nikkei closed up eight percent after the stimulus deal was reached.

Central to the bill are a Republican-led plan to send direct checks to millions of Americans, up to $3,400 for a family of four, and loans to businesses.

A point of contention has been $500 billion for guaranteed loans to larger industries.

Schumer's main rival in the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was also optimistic about the deal, hailing it as "a bipartisan agreement". "And the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it", he said. "The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy", Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Multiple lawmakers said a final version of the bill was being drafted Tuesday.

"My hope is that while we're in the red zone here, we get across the finish line, and that we do so in a way that we can bring the bill to the floor under unanimous consent", she said on MSNBC.

Schumer said the compromise is nearly certain to include a guarantee the federal government will pay the salaries of worked sacked or sickened due to the pandemic for four months.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the Senate that after almost a week of "arduous" negotiations that they now have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history but its passing is not a moment of celebration but of necessity to help Americans suffering medically and financially due to the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading throughout the country.

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McConnell said the Senate will vote on the measure later Wednesday.

The rescue package is larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act.

"This is a national crisis", McConnell said on the floor earlier.

Democrats rejected the original package, arguing it put corporations ahead of workers, including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has infected 55,000 and killed almost 800 in the USA alone.

The House Speaker told CNBC on Tuesday that "there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours".

Trump has balked at using his authority under the recently invoked Defense Protection Act to compel the private sector to manufacture needed medical supplies like masks and ventilators, even as he encourages them to spur production.

"We expect to have an agreement tomorrow morning", he said.

The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

"Delhi looks like a ghost town", said Nishank Gupta, a lawyer.

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