White House, Senate agree on $2tr rescue plan

Updated March 26, 2020

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In this file photo, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attends a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus in Washington on March 20. — AFP
In this file photo, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attends a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus in Washington on March 20. — AFP

WASHINGTON: The White House and Senate have reached agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package for the US economy and millions of Americans ravaged by the coronavirus crisis, top lawmakers said early on Wednesday.

“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, hailing the massive “wartime level of investment into our nation” reached after five days of arduous and tense negotiations.

“We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said shortly after McConnell spoke. “So many people are being put out of work through no fault of their own. They don’t know what their future is going to be like, how are they going to pay the bills,” Schumer added.

“Well, we come to their rescue.” The Senate and House of Representatives still need to pass the legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

McConnell said the Senate will vote on the measure later Wednesday. The deal aims to buttress the teetering economy by giving roughly $2 trillion to health facilities, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

It will put cash directly into the hands of Americans hard hit by the crisis, provide grants to small businesses and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for larger corporations including airlines.

It also proposes the injection of around $130 billion into what Schumer calls “a Marshall Plan for hospitals” and health care infrastructure, referring to the huge American aid programme to rebuild Europe after World War II.

With infection numbers rising from coast to coast, hospitals have been in dire need of equipment like protective gear, intensive care beds and ventilators.

Asian equities soared on Wednesday on the news, with Tokyo’s Nikkei closing up eight percent and oil prices also climbing. US stocks had already surged Tuesday on expectations of an agreement.

McConnell and Schumer negotiated the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other White House officials after days of bitter partisan fighting over what to put into the final package.

Mnuchin had shuttled between the Capitol offices of the Senate’s leaders as they and staffers hammered out the language of the bill. The agreement followed multiple failed attempts to advance a Republican-led proposal, and pressure had soared to swiftly reach a compromise.

President Donald Trump called for an immediate resolution to the stalemate.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” he said on Twitter. “The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!” Democrats rejected the original package, arguing that it put corporations ahead of workers, including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has infected 55,000 and killed nearly 800 in the US alone.

As the hours ticked away on Tuesday, several lawmakers voiced their anxiety.

“Pass the damn bill. Stop negotiating. Enough is enough,” a visibly angry Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on the floor, after accusing Democrats of “nickeling and diming at a time people are dying.”

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020