U.S. House leaders determined to pass $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives are determined to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Friday, or at the very latest on Saturday, hoping to provide the quickest help possible as deaths mount and the economy reels.

On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package that the U.S. Senate backed unanimously on Wednesday night, lawmakers and aides said.

But there were warnings later on Thursday that at least one Republican might act to delay the vote into the weekend.

Representative Madeleine Dean said the message on Pelosi’s two-hour call was “Let’s get this done tomorrow if we possibly can. If not, at the very latest Saturday.”

Dean said she would drive to Washington from her Pennsylvania district for the debate, due to start on Friday morning. “It was so obvious from everyone’s conversation on the call, we know what we have to do. We have to get relief to the American people now,” Dean said.

The Senate bill – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by the U.S. Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the Democratic-controlled House backs it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law.

“The House of Representatives must now pass this bill, hopefully without delay. I think it’s got tremendous support,” Trump said at a daily coronavirus briefing.

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The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The Republican-led Senate approved it 96-0 late on Wednesday. The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

DEATHS MOUNT, MILLIONS OUT OF WORK

Pelosi told a weekly news conference she expected the bill would have strong support from House Democrats and Republicans.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases, according to a Reuters tally. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The crisis has dealt a crushing blow to the economy, with thousands of businesses closing or cutting back. The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would work on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan. But he wants it to be allowed to work before deciding on more legislation.

“This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for,” he told reporters. McCarthy predicted the measure would pass on Friday morning.

The $2.2 trillion bill follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.

Pelosi said House leaders planned to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday.

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than recording how each House member voted.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

House leaders said late on Thursday that an unnamed House Republican might suggest a quorum is not present on Friday morning and call for a recorded vote for final passage. Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer encouraged members to be at the Capitol by 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Friday.

“We will see if the bill can pass by voice vote or if a Republican forces a recorded vote,” Hoyer’s office said in a statement.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14.

It would be difficult for all of them to return, given that two have tested positive for the respiratory disease, a handful are in self-quarantine and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.

The Capitol has laid out special procedures – including barring members from sitting beside one another – to minimize the threat of infection, both to members and staff.

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After Senate vote, massive U.S. coronavirus bill moves to the House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s unanimous passage of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill sent the unprecedented economic legislation to the House of Representatives, whose Democratic leaders hope to pass it on Friday.

The Republican-led Senate approved the massive bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to none late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the Democratic-majority House.

The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Individuals even with bravery and valor are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

It follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The House’s Democratic leaders announced that they would have a voice vote on Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she backed the bill, and was open to passing more legislation if needed to address the crisis in future.

The House Republican leadership is recommending a “yes” vote.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

There had been some debate about whether all 430 House members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14, would have to return to consider the bill. That would have been difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine and several states have issued stay-at-home orders.

There are five vacant House seats.

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U.S. Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a $2 trillion bill aimed at helping unemployed workers and industries hurt by the coronavirus epidemic, as well as providing billions of dollars to buy urgently needed medical equipment.

After bitter negotiations, the deeply divided Senate came together and passed the bill by a unanimous 96-0 vote, which sent the massive stimulus package to the House of Representatives, which could vote sometime this week.

President Donald Trump, whose top aides helped negotiate the bipartisan measure, promised to sign it into law as soon as it reaches his desk. “I will sign it immediately,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

The massive bill – which would be the largest economic stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

The package is intended to flood the economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases and the World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Top aides to Trump and senior senators from both parties announced that they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

But it was delayed by criticism from both the right and left on Wednesday, pushing the final vote on passage almost another full day.

Several Republican senators had insisted the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more in unemployment benefits than they earned on the job. However, an amendment that would have changed the unemployment provision failed just before the Senate approved the measure.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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