WASHINGTON — In an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Senate on Wednesday passed a $2-trillion economic stimulus package – the largest ever – designed to pump money directly into Americans’ pockets while also shoring up hospitals, businesses and state and local governments struggling against the coronavirus pandemic.
The $2-trillion price tag is equal to more than half of the $3.5 trillion the federal government expects to collect in taxes this year, and is 9% of the nation’s gross domestic product.
“It’s going to take care of people,” President Trump said of the legislation during a news conference, vowing to sign the bill immediately when it reaches his desk.
A vote was initially delayed in part by concerns from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and a handful of Republican senators that laid-off low-wage-earners in some states might be able to temporarily collect more from the expanded unemployment insurance in the bill than from their original salaries, creating a disincentive to work.
But Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said most Americans would opt to keep their jobs, adding that the provision was needed to streamline the process of getting aid to workers nationwide.
“Our expectation is this bill passes tonight,” said Mnuchin, who took part in five days of tense, marathon negotiations between congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans.
The sweeping package will impact a broad swath of American society, with some elements potentially lasting longer than the health crisis.
Along with providing a one-time direct payout of up to $1,200 for most American adults, the bill includes $500 billion in loans to struggling businesses, $377 billion in loans and grants for small businesses, $150 billion for local, state and tribal governments struggling with a drop in revenue and $130 billion for hospitals.
The package also blocks foreclosures and evictions during the crisis on properties where the federal government backs the mortgage; pauses federal student loan payments for six months and waives the interest; gives states millions of dollars to begin offering mail or early voting; and provides more than $25 billion in new money for food assistance programs like SNAP.
The real test will be whether the House accepts the bill as it is, and can pass it with “unanimous consent,” a procedure usually reserved for small, noncontroversial bills. If a single member comes to the House floor and objects, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) may have to recall House members to Washington for a vote that would draw out the process.
Democratic and Republican House leaders are hoping to avoid that, but it remains to be seen whether they can. A House vote is scheduled to occur Friday.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, an independent who left the Republican Party last year, called the package a “raw deal for the people” in a tweet shortly after it was announced, but clarified later in the day that he will not delay the bill by objecting to unanimous consent.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Wednesday that he supports holding a voice vote, which would ensure House members don’t have to return if they don’t want to for health or safety reasons. But if some wanted to object in person, they could.
“I do not believe we should pass a $2-trillion bill by unanimous consent,” McCarthy said.
A voice vote is generally determined by which side is the loudest, as decided by the member presiding over the House at the time. The losing side often asks for a recorded vote, which would require Pelosi to recall House members from across the country.
Pelosi voiced willingness Wednesday to have a voice vote.
Several House Democrats were also unhappy with the bill, saying it helps business at the expense of people. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted that she is angry the Senate bill doesn’t help people whose water was shut off for lack of payment during the outbreak.