US senators have reached a compromise with the Trump administration on a mammoth economic stimulus bill to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic, White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland has said.
“We have a deal,” he told reporters in the early hours of Wednesday.
The revamped agreement wraps up five days of tough negotiations during which the Democrats blocked two votes on the Republican-drafted $1.8-trillion package. They criticised the draft for its perceived failure to address the urgent needs of ordinary people and ensure substantial oversight over the Treasury's $500-billion loan programme for corporations.
The new Senate proposal, which has yet to pass through both houses of Congress, will allocate nearly $2 trillion to businesses and workers. Apart from the $500-billion Treasury fund, it would provide tax rebates and expanded unemployment benefits, as well as $367 million for small businesses, $130 billion for hospitals, $200 billion for various "domestic priorities” such as public health, transportation and food stamps, $25 billion in direct financial assistance to troubled airlines, and $4 billion for air cargo carriers. It will also provide a one-time check of $1,200 to individuals who make up to $75,000 a year, $500 per child, and $2,400 per married couple.
Among the key concessions, the Republicans agreed to strict oversight (an inspector general and a five-member congressional panel) over the corporate relief programme, which the Democrats had blasted as a “slush fund” that gave the Treasury a free hand in determining who gets the money. The funding for hospitals was almost doubled compared to the initial GOP proposal, which would also phase in direct payments to Americans with no or little tax liability. The emerging stimulus package is larger than the 2008 bank bailout and the 2009 recovery act combined.
Congress is now under massive pressure to pass the deal and reassure both panicky investors an the American public hurt by the spread of the new coronavirus, with businesses laying off workers or shutting down outright.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was negotiating the deal with the Democrats, described the benefits it grants as “wartime level of investment into our nation”. He said a Senate vote would take place later in the day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left more than 55,000 people in the United States sick and killed almost 800, according to John Hopkins University.