(WASHINGTON) — The Senate on Wednesday passed an economic relief bill to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring free testing and paid leave for certain workers. The measure now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted 90-8 in favor of the “phase two” stimulus measure.
Eight Republican senators opposed the measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost just north of $100 billion.
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his Republican colleagues to support it.
“I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We’re going to pass the House bill, but its imperfections will just make our more comprehensive package more urgent. So we aren’t leaving — everybody understand that — we aren’t leaving, until we deliver.”
He added, “The Senate is not going to leave small business behind.”
The economic relief bill ensures free COVID-19 testing, bolsters unemployment insurance, increases spending on health insurance for the poor and adds $1 billion in food aid.
The agreement includes paid sick days for some employees, as well as three months of paid emergency leave throughout the course of the coronavirus crisis. To help offset the costs for employers, businesses would be reimbursed for some of these costs through tax credits.
Big businesses — those with more than 500 employees — however, are exempted from offering their employees paid sick leave or family leave under the bill.
But Congress is already working on another relief package, with McConnell vowing earlier in the week that the Senate won’t leave town until a third relief package is on the president’s desk.
The third relief package, which Senate Republicans are currently negotiating with the White House, is expected to further bolster relief for small businesses, as well as add targeted relief for certain industries.
The Treasury Department is proposing a nearly $1 trillion package, which would include $50 billion for the airline industry, $150 billion for “distressed sectors of the US economy,” as well as providing $300 billion towards the creation of a small business interruption loan program.
McConnell said this larger, more comprehensive relief bill will also be an effort to “put money directly into the hands” of American workers and families.
But McConnell will certainly need buy-in from Senate Democrats, and eventually, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to pass what is expected to be one of the largest, most expansive emergency spending packages in American history.
Taking to the floor just moments after McConnell, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said any negotiation on a third package should include both parties, both chambers and the White House. Anything else would be “too cumbersome, too partisan,” a process, Schumer said.
Schumer also warned that the economy was reaching a “near standstill” and said he expects a recession is to come.
“If we can curb this virus, the economy will get better,” Schumer said. “But if you ignore the public health crisis with the equipment and infrastructure and personnel that is needed in many more numbers than we’ve ever seen the economy won’t get better.”
The Treasury Department also sent a proposal to lawmakers to approve $250 billion in direct payments to Americans in April, with another $250 billion going out in May.
Schumer said these cash payments are not enough.
“A single $1,000 check would help someone pay their landlord in March, but what happens after that?” Schumer said. “How do they pay their rent in April when their restaurant or store is still closed for business? How about May, how bout June? $1000 goes by pretty quickly if you’re unemployed.”
If a package does include direct payments, they need to be “bigger, more frequent, and more targeted,” he added.
Schumer briefly addressed possible targeted relief for certain industries, drilling down on the argument he advanced yesterday that aid for airline or hotel industries should include “worker priorities and protection.”
He also took the administration to task for its delayed response to the novel coronavirus and urged the administration to take seriously the impending shortage of intensive care unit beds and ventilators and encouraged Trump to utilize his existing authorities to ramp up production.
“We must mobilize as if it were a time of war when it comes to hospitals beds, supplies, equipment,” Schumer said.
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