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

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By An­drew Tay­lor and Alan Fram

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.

ALEX EDEL­MAN/GETTY-AFP

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thurs­day: “We will have a vic­tory ... for Amer­ica’s work­ers.”

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