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Senate passes massive $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill

Among other things, the legislation would boost unemployment insurance, send checks to many Americans and bar President Donald Trump from receiving any aid.
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WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly passed a massive $2 trillion stimulus package late Wednesday that's meant to soften the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic for American workers and businesses.

The Senate approved the 880-page bill in a unanimous 96-0 vote. The measure would provide billions of dollars in credit for struggling industries, a significant boost to unemployment insurance and direct cash payments to Americans.

As indication of the depth of the nation's economic woes, new data released on Thursday only hours after the Senate vote showed that more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.

The massive spike in new jobless claims comes as nationwide lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have kept Americans from their workplaces, grinding businesses to a halt and forcing many companies to shutter or to lay off staff. Just 282,000 people filed for unemployment in the previous week, before lockdowns began, according to the Department of Labor.

The House is expected to vote on the stimulus bill on Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, which will allow Democrats enough time to review the legislation whose final language was not released until late Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear in a statement after the Senate vote that Democrats support the bill because it was "turned upside down from a Republican corporate focus to a Democratic workers-first focus."

“On Friday, the House will take up the legislation with strong bipartisan support," she said.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk and he celebrated the Senate's passage on Twitter: "96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!"

Pelosi and Hoyer said that because of members in self-quarantine, limited flight options and stay-at-home orders in some states, the House will likely pass the measure no a voice vote, which is when members yell out "aye" or "no" and the speaker determines the outcome of the vote based on which is the loudest.

House Republicans leaders are recommending that their members vote in favor of the bill.

The Senate almost hit a snag Wednesday when a small group of GOP senators opposed an unemployment insurance provision for out-of-work Americans in bill. They attempted to amend the bill on the floor, but they failed to get enough support for a change.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech Thursday shortly after midnight that he was proud that the bill passed with bipartisanship, noting that it came weeks after Trump's impeachment trial.

"From arguably the most partisan, divisive thing you could possibly do to coming together entirely, 100 of us, to meet this challenge, I think, says a lot about the United States Senate as an institution, our willingness to put aside our differences and to do something really significant for the country," he said.

Shortly afterward, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said despite the late-night haggling and debates, he believed the historic bill would get across the finish line.

"This is a good ending. Twists and turns were enormous, there were some down moments, but those of you who kept asking, 'Are we going to get a bill?' I always had faith we would. Because America and the American people demanded it," he said.

The Senate adjourned until April 20.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, hailed the bill but chided the Senate in a speech shortly after midnight, saying that the chamber should not take a scheduled 30-day recess. Senators should instead stay and work on what he called Phase Four of coronavirus relief legislation, he said.

"Because if there's one thing about this crisis that we've already seen is that new challenges pop up every day, every minute, every hour," he said. "And yet we're going to go on recess for almost a month. Don't understand this. I don't agree with it."

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Under the plan, people making up to $75,000 a year are expected to receive checks for $1,200. Couples making up to $150,000 would receive $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. The new agreement removed the phased-in provision that would have excluded lower-income Americans from receiving the full benefit.

The payments would decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 per individual or $198,000 for couples.

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"Our expectation is within three weeks we will have direct payments out," Mnuchin said at the White House briefing.

The bill is also expected to include roughly $100 billion in assistance for hospitals; $350 billion in assistance to small businesses; $500 billion in aid for corporations, including airline companies and cruise lines, that have been hurt by the outbreak; and about $150 billion for state and local stimulus funds.

Unemployment insurance would also be significantly bolstered for four months by increasing payments and extending the benefit to those who typically do not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers. Specifically, the bill would increase the maximum unemployment benefit that a state gives to a person by $600 per week and, according to Schumer, ensure that "laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months."

The agreement also would prohibit businesses controlled by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.

Legislation rarely moves this rapidly in Washington, especially a bill of this size. But both parties appeared motivated to act quickly as unemployment numbers continue to rise and more businesses are forced to close their doors.

Tensions flared earlier in the week as the White House and Republican leadership fell short of their goal to have a bill on the president's desk by Monday.

The spending package is now the third round of emergency legislation that Congress has approved to combat the outbreak. Lawmakers approved an $8.3 billion bill for health agencies and a roughly $100 billion bill aimed at providing free coronavirus testing, some paid leave and unemployment benefits, as well as additional Medicaid funding and food assistance.