The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $US367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
The final details had proved nettlesome. One of the last issues to close concerned $US500 billion for guaranteed, subsidised loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
The package was aimed to combat what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had called “the most serious threat to Americans’ health in over a century and quite likely the greatest risk to America’s jobs and prosperity that we’ve seen since the Great Depression”.
Yet even as the public health crisis deepened, President Donald Trump expressed eagerness to nudge many people back to work in coming weeks and held out a prospect, based more on hope than science, that the country could be returning to normal in less than a month.
“We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought,” Trump told a Fox News town hall. He said he’d like to have the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter, April 12. But in a White House briefing later, Trump said “our decision will be based on hard facts and data.”
Medical professionals say social distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections. At the White House briefing, the public-health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and for those who have recently left the city to do the same.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said pointedly at the briefing, “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional leaders engaged in final negotiations Tuesday after a tumultuous but productive day Monday. While the two sides had resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some sticking points remained.
“We’re trying to finalise all the documents, going through a lot of complicated issues, and we’re making a lot of progress,” Mnuchin said earlier on Tuesday.
Ravaged in recent days, stocks rocketed as negotiators signalled a resolution was in sight.
At issue in the Capitol was an unprecedented economic rescue package. A one-time payment of $US1200 per adult and $US500 per child would go directly to the public. A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks at the insistence of Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, while Republicans pressed for tens of billions of dollars for additional relief to be delivered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal disaster agency.
Democrats said the package would help replace the salary of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $US600 per week add-on, with gig workers such as Uber drivers covered for the first time. Companies would be able to defer payment of the 6.2 per cent Social Security payroll tax.