The White House and Senate leaders of both parties announced agreement early Wednesday on an unprecedented $2 trillion emergency bill to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The urgently needed pandemic response measure is the largest economic rescue measure in history and is intended as a weekslong or monthslong patch for an economy spiraling into recession and a nation facing a potentially ghastly toll.
"To the American people, we say, big help, quick help is on the way," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday morning on CNN.
Schumer said he expected approval by the Republican-led Senate later in the day. That would leave final congressional approval up to the Democratic-controlled House, where the timetable for votes is unclear and whose members are mostly scattered around the country.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. Some final pieces of the agreement need to be finalized in detailed legislative language.
The Senate is likely to pass the measure Wednesday afternoon. In the House, both Democratic and Republican leaders hope to clear the measure for President Donald Trump's signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington, but that may prove challenging, as the bill is sure to be opposed by some conservatives upset at its cost and scope. Ardent liberals were restless as well.
The economic rescue 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.
One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
"After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a key negotiator. "It will rush new resources onto the front lines of our nation's health care fight. And it will inject trillions of dollars of cash into the economy as fast as possible to help Americans workers, families, small businesses and industries make it through this disruption and emerge on the other side ready to soar."
Even before the deal was reached, news of the likely but elusive agreement had sent the stock market rocketing on Tuesday. The rescue package would be larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.
The package would give one-time direct payments to Americans-- $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of Covid-19 patients grew during the talks at the insistence of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, while Republicans pressed for tens of billions of dollars for additional relief to be delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal disaster agency.
Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $600 per week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.
"It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large, along with self-employed and workers in the gig economy," Schumer said.
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 percent of workers' paychecks. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax.
Democrats pointed to gains for hospitals, additional oversight of the huge industry stabilization fund and money for cash-strapped states. A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to more than $300 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters-- including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.
To provide transparency, the package is expected to create a new inspector general and oversight board for the corporate dollars, much as was done during the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program bank rescue, officials said.
The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened more than 425,000 people and killed about 19,000 worldwide. In the United States, more than 55,000 people have been sickened and more than 800 have died. -- The Associated Press
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.