U.S. senators look to quickly pass massive coronavirus bill, head home

FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday, after five days of marathon talks.

“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early on Wednesday.

The Senate was due to convene at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), though timing of the vote was unclear. Trump supports the measure, the White House said.

“We’re really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.

The massive bill is expected to include a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month.

“We have greatly strengthened the bill and we’re proud of what we’ve done,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN. He said he thought the chamber would pass the legislation on Wednesday.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,470, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led states to order 100 million people – nearly a third of the population – to stay at home.

Wall Street on Wednesday extended its massive bounce from the previous session after Congress reached the deal on the package. All three major U.S. stock indexes were up in early trading.

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action,” she said in a statement.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so. If just one of the chamber’s 430 members objects, that could lead to delays.

It also must be signed by Trump, who said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.

 

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

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