With more than 3 million unemployment claims filed, questions mount about how well the rescue plan will work.
US tops China for most coronavirus cases in the world
WASHINGTON — The House will give final approval Friday to the $2.2 trillion economic rescue bill with robust backing from both parties, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, a vote that would cap Congress’ tumultuous effort to rush the relief to a nation battered by the coronavirus.
The action in Congress comes as the number of coronavirus cases in the country climbed above China, where the virus originated late last year, to more than 83,000, becoming the world’s highest, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,200 people in the U.S. have died and more than 600 have recovered.
Pelosi spoke Thursday morning, just hours after the Senate used an overnight vote to approve the measure 96-0. With House members dispersed around the country, Pelosi and Republican leaders were planning to bless the measure by a voice vote, probably with just a sprinkling of lawmakers present in the chamber.
“It will pass with strong bipartisan support,” said Pelosi, D-Calif.
President Donald Trump has implored lawmakers to finish with the package so he can sign it into law.
The package comes to the House as fresh evidence emerges that the economy is in a recession. The government reported 3.3 million new weekly unemployment claims, almost five times the previous record set in 1982. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a TV interview the economy “may well be in a recession.”
Pelosi praised the bill’s expansion of unemployment benefits and provisions that encourage companies hit by the pandemic to keep paying their workers, even those who are furloughed.
“We will have a victory tomorrow for America’s workers,” she said. “If somebody has a different point of view, they can put it in the record, but we’re not worried about that.”
The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. It would steer substantial aid to larger industries, too.
The unanimous Senate vote late Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike any it has faced.
The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.
“Pray for one another, for all of our families and for our country,” McConnell said.
Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that’s equal to half the $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess.
The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers and food aid.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said earlier he expected the measure to pass by a voice vote without lawmakers having to return to Washington.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said Thursday that his members were on board with that.
“We’ll have a debate, and then we’ll have a voice vote to bring it up and move it to the president’s desk,” McCarthy told Fox News.
Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials, including Trump and his immediate family members, would be ineligible for the bill’s business assistance.
State and local authorities would receive up to $150 billion in grants to fight the virus, care for their residents and provide basic services.
Republicans won inclusion of an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.
Pelosi was a force behind $400 million in grants to states to expand voting by mail and other steps that Democrats billed as making voting safer but Republican critics called political opportunism. The package also contains $15.5 billion more for a surge in demand for food stamps as part of a massive $330 billion title for agency operations.
Most people who contract the new coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday: “We will have a victory ... for America’s workers.”