Senate passes House’s coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump
The Senate passed the House’s coronavirus aid package on Wednesday, sending it to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.
Senators voted 90-8 on the bill that passed the House in a middle-of-the-night Saturday vote but needed dozens of pages of corrections and changes, which cleared the chamber on Monday.
The measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost $104 billion, is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy.
The vote on the second package comes as senators are already working on “phase three,” with Senate Republicans wanting to pass that next week. The third coronavirus bill is expected to include help for impacted small businesses, industries and families, including direct cash payments for Americans.
McConnell has created GOP task forces for drafting the bill. Republicans briefed their colleagues during a closed-door lunch Wednesday and are expected to hand over their work by Thursday.
The majority leader told reporters after the lunch that Republicans were “getting close” and “hoping to be together shortly.”
The bill approved Wednesday bolsters unemployment insurance and guarantees free diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.
It also provides up to 10 days of paid sick leave for some workers. It caps that at companies with 500 employees and would allow for those with fewer than 50 to apply for a waiver.
But the bill’s path through the Senate wasn’t without drama.
The House bill, which was negotiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sparked fierce opposition from some Senate Republicans, who were largely sidelined from the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tipped his hand to the frustration ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
“I will vote to pass their bill. This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said.
“However, the House’s bill has real shortcomings. It does not even begin to cover all of the Americans who will need help in the days ahead,” he added.
GOP senators have bristled, in particular, over the paid sick leave provisions over concerns that it will negatively impact small businesses, some of which are already facing closure and potential layoffs because of the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) railed against the bill, as well as Congress’s larger rush to likely spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
“There is a herd mentality around this building right now where a lot of normally smart people are literally saying things like: The most important thing is to be fast, even if the ideas that are being advocated for are not really ready for prime time and can’t really withstand the scrutiny of debate. That is a really dumb idea,” Sasse said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meanwhile, forced an amendment vote that would have paid for the spending, partly by ending the war in Afghanistan. Paul warned that without covering the spending, Congress’s ability to borrow in the future could be impacted.
“All because we refused to do what we were elected to do, which is to prioritize the truly vital, such as coronavirus relief and medical research, over the extraneous, such as spending money on clown colleges, gas stations and roads in Afghanistan,” he said.
The Senate rejected that amendment in a 3-95 vote, and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) knocked the libertarian-minded GOP senator for forcing the issue at all.
“In a time of national emergency, this Republican amendment is ridiculous, a colossal waste of time. … We are all eager to dispatch this absurd Republican amendment and send this bill to the president,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The Senate also shot down two other amendments: One from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on paid sick leave and one from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that would strip the paid leave language and replace it with expenses unemployment insurance.
Eight Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Paul, Sasse and Tim Scott (S.C.).