White House & US Senate reach deal on a whooping $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after a meeting to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington, March 22, 2020.Mary F. Calvert / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate leaders reached an agreement early Wednesday morning on a massive $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the outbreak.

“At last we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday. “In effect, this is a war time investment.”

Although the full text of the bill is not yet known, lawmakers indicated on Tuesday that the Republican’s initial proposal for direct cash payments would be included.

Under the plan, people making up to $75,000 a year are expected to receive checks of $1,200. Couples making $150,000 will receive $2,400 with an additional $500 per child. The new agreement removed the phase-in provision that excluded lower-income Americans from receiving the full benefit.

The payments would decrease for those making more than $75,000, with an income cap of $99,000 per individual or $198,000 for couples.

The bill is also expected to include roughly $100 billion in assistance for hospitals, $350 billion in assistance to small businesses to help them meet payroll, $500 billion in aid for corporations, such as airline companies and cruise lines, that have been hurt by the coronavirus outbreak.

Unemployment insurance would also be bolstered to increase payments and extend the benefit to those who typically do not qualify such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers.

McConnell introduced the Republican proposal Thursday evening, giving lawmakers less than one week to negotiate a deal, draft legislative text and schedule a vote.

Negotiations, however, came to a head over how much additional unemployment insurance should be extended as well as aid for distressed corporations. Schumer also felt like the initial Republican plan did not have enough money dedicated to hospitals and called for a “Marshall Plan” for the healthcare system.

Senators, along with representatives from the White House, huddled in the Capitol over the weekend and into the beginning of this week hammering out a deal.

Legislation rarely moves this fast in Washington, especially for a bill of this size. But both parties appeared motivated to act quickly as unemployment numbers continue to rise and more and more businesses are forced to close their doors.

The House, whose members are currently at home in their districts, are now deciding how they will vote on the bill. Two members announced last week that they had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, forcing a handful of their colleagues who had been in close contact with them to self-isolate for the recommended two week period.

On Sunday Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced he had also been diagnosed with the coronavirus, sending some of his Senate colleagues who had been in close contact with him over the weekend during negotiations at the Capitol back home to self-quarantine.

Once passed, the spending package will be the third round of emergency legislation that Congress has approved to combat the outbreak. Lawmakers approved an $8.3 billion bill for health agencies and a roughly $100 billion bill aimed at providing free coronavirus testing, some paid leave and unemployment benefits, as well as additional Medicaid funding and food assistance.

Trump signed the first two bills into law and is expected to sign the third bill, too.

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Patrick Luwagga is the editorial director of cross-platform content for UGANDANZ. He works across the newsroom and with business partners to drive and develop ambitious editorial projects that include digital journalism, video, data research, polling, live events, and thought-leadership series that are supported by outside underwriting. As executive director, he is responsible for the creation of Political news section, prior to joining UGANDANZ, Patrick was the chief editor for the national weekly news magazine of Kasese Times. In that role, he covered several presidential elections, wrote and produced two television documentaries, and was a regular commentator on television and radio news programs. Patrick was born in Masaka and grew up in Kasese. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Makerere University where he was a Knight Foundation journalism fellow.