Final Details Holding Up Virus Bill Vote: Congress Update




 

(Bloomberg) -- Republicans and Democrats reached a hard-won agreement on the Senate's $2 trillion worth of fiscal stimulus to shore up an economy crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate returned at noon Wednesday, and while a vote is expected, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet set a time.

The final version was the product of intense negotiations led by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Once the measure gets through the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be under pressure to pass the measure quickly for President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Final Details Holding Up Virus Bill Vote (4:22 p.m.)

More than 12 hours after Senate leaders announced an agreement, negotiations are continuing over various parts of the final text of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, including language regarding abortion providers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

McConnell and Schumer announced the agreement at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, and after noon they both said they expected a procedural vote later in the day. -- Steven T. Dennis

Sanders Deepens Dispute Over Jobless Benefits (4:01 p.m.)

A Senate dispute over the virus stimulus package grew deeper Wednesday when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders threatened to hold up the bill if changes to unemployment benefits are made to satisfy some Republicans. The standoff threatens to delay a Senate vote on the $2 trillion measure.

Four GOP senators earlier Wednesday pressed for a cap on unemployment benefits to ensure laid-off workers aren't paid more than their previous level of wages. They said that otherwise employers would have an incentive to lay off workers so they could get higher benefits.

Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would block the legislation himself if the Republicans did not relent. Sanders says he wants tougher oversight on aid for corporations and wants to require them to pay higher wages and stop offshoring jobs.

"It would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation," said Sanders. -- Erik Wasson

Three GOP Senators Seek Jobless Benefit Change (2:06 p.m.)

Three Republican senators -- Ben Sasse, Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham -- are threatening to delay a Senate vote on the virus stimulus bill until changes are made to its unemployment benefits section.

The senators argue that by allowing unemployment benefits to exceed employees' pay in some cases, the bill would create an incentive for layoffs and supply chain disruptions.

"If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families' tables," the senators said in a statement. -- Erik Wasson

It's Time to Pass Stimulus Bill, Schumer Says (1:07 p.m.)

Schumer said that once the bill-writing is completed, "Democrats are ready to speed up the consideration of the legislation as much as possible," within a matter of hours.

"I say to the American people, help is on the way. Big help, quick help," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "It's time to pass it."

The House, meanwhile, plans to give members 24 hours' notice before voting, second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer said in a letter to members.

"We must have the final legislative text and clear direction on when the Senate will vote," Hoyer said.

Pelosi has said she wants the House to act by voice vote, without having to call members to Washington. Some Democratic members have said they want time to examine the bill.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy urged the chamber to move ahead as soon as possible, saying in a statement, "We are already behind."

McConnell Says Senate to 'Act Together' on Bill (12:30 p.m.)

McConnell said he'll consult with Schumer on when to hold an initial vote on advancing the stimulus measure.

"The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today," McConnell said as the chamber opened for business.

Virus Stimulus Provides Employer Payroll Tax Holiday (11:39 a.m.)

GOP Senator Pat Toomey told reporters the plan will cost about $2 trillion and will include a "long list" of tax incentives, including a two-year suspension of the employer share of payroll taxes, and an employee-retention tax credit for employers too big for small business loans. It will be up to 50 percent of wages, Toomey said.

Toomey said the package would provide $100 billion directly to hospitals and health care providers, $250 million in hospital grants, and large investment for vaccines and test kits. No one will be charged for coronavirus tests, he said in a conference call.

The federally guaranteed small business loan program will be handled by the Small Business Administration and banks, with the amounts to used for payroll, mortgage and rent to be forgiven, Toomey said.

The loan program contains a restriction on stock buybacks for the term of the loan but doesn't restrict issuance of corporate debt.

"We have been invaded by a species that has the ability to kill many, many Americans; in response the government has shut down our economy," Toomey said. "This is a massive intervention."

Pelosi Praises Plan as 'Closer' to Workers (9:01 a.m.)

The bill "has moved a great deal closer to America's workers" after negotiations with Democrats, Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday morning.

"House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action," Pelosi said.

She had said Tuesday that she hoped the House would be able to pass a Senate measure by voice vote without having to bring members to Washington. That is only an option if no House member objects.

Bipartisan Deal Sets Up Stimulus Vote in Senate (8:30 a.m.)

The agreement clears the way for the Senate to vote as soon as Wednesday and send the measure to the House. The Democratic-led House will have to pass the same version before sending it to Trump.

"It is a good bill," Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, told CNN Wednesday morning. "This is the art of compromise. This is the art of coming together. America needed huge help quickly and I think we've risen to that occasion."

The plan includes about $500 billion that can be used to back loans and assistance to companies, including $50 billion for loans to U.S. airlines, as well as state and local governments. It also has more than $350 billion to aid small businesses. Then there is $150 billion for hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies.

For individuals, the package provides direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of $1,200 for each adult, as well as $500 for each child. Schumer said that Trump has indicated those checks would go out on April 6.

Unemployment insurance would be extended to four months, the benefits would be bolstered by $600 weekly and eligibility would be expanded to cover more workers.

Any company receiving a government loan would be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan plus one additional year. They also would have to limit executive bonuses and take steps to protect workers. The Treasury Department would have to disclose the terms of loans or other aid to companies and a new Treasury inspector general would oversee the lending program. -- Laura Litvan

Catch Up on Washington's Virus Response

White House Calls For 14-day Quarantine For All Leaving New YorkHouse Democrats Balk at Rubber Stamping Senate's Virus BillCalifornia Governor Sees Easter Too Soon to Emerge From Shutdown

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