WASHINGTON -- The White House and Senate leaders of both parties have struck an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight.
The agreement came after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. It still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal," Ueland said.
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The unprecedented 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.
A one-time payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child would go directly to the public.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- the top White House negotiator -- had all said late Tuesday that a resolution was imminent as lawmakers continued to hash out the details.
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Exiting an early evening meeting in Schumer's office, Mnuchin told reporters: "I know you've heard this before, but everyone's trying to close this out today. ... We are going back and forth on text."
Mnuchin and congressional leaders engaged in final negotiations after a tumultuous but productive day Monday. While the two sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some sticking points remained. A Senate vote appeared likely today, with a House vote to follow.
"We're trying to finalize all the documents, going through a lot of complicated issues, and we're making a lot of progress," Mnuchin said.
The bill is being rushed through Congress without public hearings or formal review, and it's unclear how effective the measures would be in arresting the economy's sudden fall.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told colleagues on a conference call that the Senate bill had made "a big advance" but "doesn't have everything we want," according to people with knowledge of the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its contents.
The stock market rose sharply in anticipation of the deal, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surging more than 2,100 points, or 11.7%.
The measures are similar to those put in place as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the centerpiece of the Wall Street bailout enacted in 2008 to respond to the financial meltdown.
Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, called it the "single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States."
Opening the Senate on Tuesday, McConnell combined optimism about the chances for a deal with frustration at the delays -- and a sober view of the crisis at hand.
"The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone," he said. On the negotiations, he said, "It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here."
Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump urged swift action. "Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today," he tweeted. "The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy."
As lawmakers worked toward a deal, the White House made a significant concession to Democrats' demands, agreeing to allow enhanced scrutiny over the huge loan program that is a centerpiece of the Senate's $2 trillion economic package.
"We have been pushing hard that any contract that the federal government makes with a company to give it loans, that we know of that contract in a very short period of time, that we can examine it," Schumer said. "We in the Senate, those in the House, the press and the American people will know if these things are on the level."
This pertains to the $500 billion loan and loan guarantee program that the Treasury Department would be responsible for administering for companies, states, and cities. Of that amount, $425 billion is supposed to go to businesses, cities and states. An additional $50 billion would go to passenger airlines, $8 billion more for cargo airlines, and $17 billion would be directed for companies that are deemed important to national security.
Trump already has said he wants some of the money to go to the cruise ship industry, and he also wants assistance for hotels. When he was asked Monday evening who would perform oversight of the program, Trump responded, "I'll be the oversight."
But during closed negotiations on Capitol Hill, White House officials agreed to allow an independent inspector general and an oversight board to scrutinize the lending decisions, senators said.
"We got better oversight, better oversight," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, said as he left a morning meeting with Schumer. "The oversight basically is saying that you know you can't just ... exempt everybody and give all your corporate executives, based on the backs of the taxpayers, free carnival."
Manchin has been vocally critical of the bill being weighted more toward Wall Street than average America. Trump took a shot at the lawmaker when asked about his criticism during an interview Tuesday on Fox News.
"Does Joe Manchin want all of these, or many of these companies to go out of business? We'll have an unemployment rate the likes of which nobody's ever seen before," Trump said. "We have to save these companies. These are companies that weren't in trouble three weeks ago, and now they're in trouble because of what happened. These are great companies, they're in some cases triple A companies."
PRESSURE FROM HOME
The legislation also would boost significantly unemployment insurance, expanding eligibility and offering workers an additional $600 a week for four months, on top of what state unemployment programs pay.
The legislation contains $130 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for a state and local stimulus fund, both major Democratic priorities, Schumer told fellow Democrats on a conference call, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Lawmakers of both parties are under extreme pressure from their constituents and health care providers in their districts and states to act to provide desperately needed money and supplies during widespread shortages and waves of layoffs. As of Tuesday afternoon there were more than 53,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States.
Mnuchin was joined Tuesday on Capitol Hill by Ueland and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the newly announced White House chief of staff. They joined key Senate Republicans around midday to review terms of the deal.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who negotiated the small-business portion, said it had grown to $367 billion, with inclusion of six months of loan forbearance for all small businesses, adding $17 billion to the original $350 billion price tag.
"I can't imagine there not being a deal given the differences that remain are frankly not insurmountable," Rubio said after the meeting.
All parties would like to act swiftly, so if the Senate is able to pass a bipartisan package quickly, the expectation is that the House would follow suit.
House Democrats released their own larger and more generous stimulus package on Monday, stuffed with provisions that would be nonstarters for Republicans. But that legislation would be set aside and Pelosi would attempt to move the Senate bill through the House.
One outstanding issue Pelosi raised is that Democrats were pushing for a dramatic increase in food-stamp benefits in exchange for accepting billions more in funding for the administration's farm bailout that Republicans have included in the stimulus bill.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a news release that the legislation would increase the amount the Department of Agriculture can spend on bailout program from $30 billion to $50 billion.
The House of Representatives is currently out of session, and it would be tricky for House members to return en masse to Washington to vote. Democratic aides said they were optimistic that a strong bipartisan Senate vote would make it possible to pass the bill by unanimous consent in the House -- a process requiring only two members present in the House chamber. But that would require every lawmaker to agree on a $2 trillion bill that touches every part of the U.S. economy.
"The easiest way for us to do it is to put aside our concerns for another day and get this done," Pelosi said Tuesday in her CNBC interview. "My goal always has been to bring this bill to the floor under unanimous consent."
However, any lawmaker of either party could object, and in an early-warning sign Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., voiced concern about the legislation over Twitter, writing that despite "vague statements" no one had seen text of the legislation that "seems to give a HALF TRILLION DOLLARS away to big corporations, w/few worker protections."
Among House Republicans, there is similar reticence to commit to approving a still-unseen bill, according to GOP aides familiar with internal conversations. Besides potential policy objections inherent in a $2 trillion bill, members also might resist passing a bill of that magnitude without a formal vote, the aides said -- thus requiring most lawmakers to return to Washington.
If unanimous consent is not possible, aides of both parties said, the most likely scenario would be a daylong vote where members would be encouraged to spread out their trips to the floor and not congregate as the vote is taken.
At least two House members and one senator have tested positive for the coronavirus, while others remained quarantined, and several Democratic lawmakers have voiced trepidation about returning to the Capitol.
Tuesday's progress on the legislation followed four straight days of negotiations on Capitol Hill, with a deal seemingly in reach each day only to elude completion. Tempers flared on the Senate floor Monday as senators got into a near shouting match over the delays.
Congress already has passed two much smaller coronavirus relief bills: an $8.3 billion emergency supplemental for the health care system, and a $100 billion-plus bill to boost paid sick leave and unemployment insurance and provide free coronavirus testing.
Information for this article was contributed by Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane, Jeff Stein, John Wagner and Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post; by Lisa Mascaro, Andrew Taylor, Jonathan Lemire, Lolita C. Baldor, Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama of The Associated Press; and by Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times.
A Section on 03/25/2020