The U.S. Senate on Wednesday was moving to approve a sweeping package designed to cushion the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on Americans, as the pandemic gut-punches the economy and newly detected cases increase.
Haggling over unemployment snagged the bill’s movement, however, as Republican senators and Sen. Bernie Sanders battled over a provision in the massive legislation.
The $2 trillion bill is expected to provide $1,200 direct payments to many Americans; offer more than $360 billion in loans to small businesses; and set up a $500 billion fund to lend to industries, cities and states. The measure would go to the House of Representatives if the Senate backs it.
“Our nation needed us to go big, and go fast,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in Wednesday remarks on the Senate floor. He predicted the measure would pass later in the day. A final bill text was not yet available.
“To the American people, we say: Big help, quick help, is on the way,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN,
, which soared Tuesday on rising expectations for a deal, also traded higher on Wednesday afternoon, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average
up nearly 500 points after an up-and-down start to the day.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has said the House could pass the bill by unanimous consent. On Wednesday morning, she said Democrats were reviewing the measure and would determine what steps to take.
There were last-minute efforts to tweak the legislation. Republican senators, including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, identified what they said may be an error in the bill involving unemployment benefits. Furloughed workers would get an extra $600 a week under the bill, which the senators said could create an incentive for staying laid off.
Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would put a hold on the bill unless the Republican senators dropped their objections.
The threat by the Vermont senator saw stocks pare gains in the final half hour of trading, with stocks finishing well off their highs.
“We anticipate that the House will vote unanimously to approve this package. If so, it would pass likely on Thursday, March 26th of this week and then be signed into law on Friday, March 27th, by the president,” wrote Henrietta Treyz of Veda Partners in a note Wednesday.
With economic activity dramatically winding down across much of the country, President Donald Trump is seeking to have it “opened up” by Easter, which falls on April 12. The president has said he would evaluate the administration’s coronavirus containment strategy early next week after a 15-day period elapses. The goal of that initiative was to encourage social distancing.
Governors and health experts have pushed back on Trump’s timeline as new coronavirus cases continue to rise.
Read on: COVID-19 case tally