Senate Passes Largest Relief Package In U.S History

The $2 trillion economic relief package includes direct payments of $1,200 to Americans making $75k and under, among other measures.

A $2 trillion Senate bill, aimed at resuscitating the declining economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, was finally passed on Wednesday night in a 96-0 vote. The bill, which is the largest relief package in US history, aims to boost the economy as millions of businesses and workers face uncertainty.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will direct payments of $1,200 to many American adults—but there are some restrictions on who can receive the checks and for how much. It will also offer unemployment insurance for workers who lost their jobs in the crisis, create a $500 billion Treasury fund for industries affected by the virus, and offer more than $300 billion in small business loans.

Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) abstained from voting on the bill due to self-quarantine.

According to a Politico report, the bill also includes a prohibition on access to loans or investments from the new programs to any business "controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs” — a measure Democrats pushed to have included after concerns about President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin having access to a $500B "slush fund" without any oversight. In addition to Trump-owned and Trump family businesses being barred from access to the fund, a special inspector general will oversee the program alongside a 5-person panel chosen by Congress. 

“This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said of the bill on Wednesday morning. “To all Americans I say, ‘Help is on the way.’”

The last prominent stimulus bill passed by Congress was in 2008 during the financial crisis and included $800 billion in relief money. The $2 trillion price tag for this one dwarfs that.

Sen. McConnell (R-KY) introduced the bill on March 19 and it has since gone through a dramatic series of negotiations and votes before it was finally approved by both Democrats and Republicans. It was projected to pass on Monday, but it failed to pass in an afternoon vote, as both parties fought over what to include in the final legislation. 

According to a report by CNBC, Democrats criticized the bill for including a $500 billion fund for businesses, calling it a bailout fund “with no strings attached,” and were seeking more unemployment measures and protections for workers. Meanwhile, Republicans criticized Democrats for wanting to include climate provisions in the bill.

The CARES Act will now head to the House on Friday, where Speaker Pelosi hopes that it will likely pass with unanimous consent for expediency. The act, also known as the “phase three” bill, is the third piece of legislation passed by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The “phase one” bill which was signed on March 6, offered $8.3 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The “phase two” bill, signed on March 18, expanded paid sick leave for some, offered free coronavirus testing, and gave a miner boosts to unemployment insurance and food stamps.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also released the official supplemental bill text so you can see exactly what provisions are in there.