The Senate hopes to pass the most expensive relief package in history to tackle the Coronavirus crisis on Wednesday, March 25th, 2020.
In the early hours of Wednesday, March 25th, 2020, the Senate came to a bipartisan agreement on an expansion of the CARES Act. They expect to sign that deal at some point in the afternoon or early evening on the 25th of March. The bill, when signed in the Senate, will be the most expensive relief package passed in U.S. history.
“It has taken a lot of rhetoric and a lot of noise to get us here”, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on the matter earlier in the day. “This majority has gone out of its way to make this process as bipartisan and as open as possible, the administration has bent over backward to work with Democrats and address their concern”.
Earlier on in the process, Senate Democrats accused the Senate Republicans of making this bill a partisan one, implying that the Republicans did not want to reach across the aisle. According to Democrats, and some media outlets, Republicans wanted to give Trump a so-called “slush fund” so Trump could hand out money to whoever he wanted.
The original CARES act was also objectionable to Democrats because it did not distribute monthly payments to individuals and families, instead the Republican-led bill would implement rebate checks which would get to U.S. citizens “as rapidly as possible” but there was no guaranteed timeline.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), said in a press release “I especially thank our House Democratic Committee Chairmen who worked hard to move the Republican proposal from a corporations-focused to workers-first and who will now review the legislative text of this agreement with our Caucus . . . the bill has moved a great deal closer to America’s workers” but not as far as House Democrats’ Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act would go. Her statement went on to inform that “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action”.
Her words show that this process is not over, yet, and this is not the final piece of legislation the House or the Senate will put forth to help U.S. citizens and businesses through the Coronavirus crisis. According to Pelosi’s press release, Democrats in the Senate “fought for and won large investment in hospitals, health system, and state and local governments . . . to give them the resources they desperately need during this emergency”.
The bill distributes one hundred and fifty billion dollars for the health care systems in the U.S. Funding for hospitals, research, treatment, and the Strategic National Stockpile supplies of ventilators, masks, and other equipment. One hundred billion dollars of that will go directly to hospitals while one billion dollars will go directly to support Native Americans and Alaska Natives, federally recognized tribes, through the Indian Health Service. It also distributes an added one hundred and fifty billion to aid state and local government in any shortages related to the pandemic.
However, for some Republicans, the aid provided in the expansion is too generous and stand in opposition due to a “drafting error”. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)., and Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb)., made a joint statement saying the new expansion of the bill could provide "strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work". The argument is that people may make more being unemployed, which could encourage layoffs or people quitting at a time when the U.S. really needs as many people at work as possible in the dwindling economy.
“We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working”, then they will agree to fast track the legislation, the joint statement said. However, many Republicans still support the bill and a spokesperson for the Senate Finance Committee said that “nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact, it’s just the opposite”.
Under the expansion of the CARES Act, according to Pelosi’s press release, workers will have “a massive increase in Unemployment Insurance benefits to match the average paycheck of laid-off or furloughed workers”. The unemployment benefits will also expand to freelance and gig economy workers. The insurance will include four months of full pay, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), he calls it “unemployment insurance on steroids”. The maximum unemployment insurance benefits will raise by six hundred dollars per week under the expansion. According to McConnell, there will be direct checks to households: one thousand two hundred dollars for adults, per person, with other payments included as necessary.
Small businesses will get an “expansion of fast relief” making “rent, mortgage and utility costs eligible for SBA loan forgiveness”. Three hundred and fifty billion dollars in loans will go to small businesses struggling during the pandemic, some of which can receive forgiveness through the SBA loans Pelosi’s press release wrote about. The expansion of the CARES Act also includes “accountability and oversight” which prevents “secret bailouts and [adds] special oversight requirements”.
Democrats included these measures, among others, in the expansion of the CARES Act, which will hopefully, despite further snags, pass through the Senate today and go onto receive approval from the House. The final vote is still “pending” as of five in the afternoon on Wednesday, March 25th, 2020.
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