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$2T coronavirus rescue plan approved by Senate, White House officials

Updated March 25, 2020 - 12:59 am

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and Trump administration officials finalized a deal Tuesday on a sweeping $2 trillion stimulus package to stave off financial ruin to companies and workers because of the economic plunge caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders expected a Senate vote on the legislation Wednesday, followed by action in the House to get the bill to the president’s desk.

Senate lawmakers were optimistic a negotiated relief package would sail through following a day of heightened tension and partisan bickering that erupted on the floor.

“We are going to move it as quickly as possible,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said of a final version of the legislation.

A relief package would help Nevada businesses and hospitals and provide unemployment benefits and cash payments to workers who could suffer losses, lawmakers in the state’s congressional delegation said.

Some final points of the deal were reached by Senate Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after days of talks over the massive stimulus package cobbled together quickly by Senate Republicans and the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said during an interview on CNBC that Senate Democrats had made the bill more worker friendly.

Last-minute negotiations

Negotiators worked into Wednesday morning ironing out last-minute details.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were confident the chamber could pass the bill quickly.

“It’s good news for America,” McConnell said. “We have a deal.”

Schumer said the deal was no “cause for celebration,” but said negotiations helped put workers first.

Congressional negotiators and the Trump administration agreed to the following:

■ Extension of unemployment benefits from three months to four months.

■ Aid to hospitals raised from $75 billion to $200 billion.

■ Creation of a state stabilization fund to disburse billions of dollars to local entities.

The nation’s mayors, including those from Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno, urged lawmakers to provide federal aid to avoid layoffs of municipal employees that provide city services.

The entire Nevada congressional delegation sought financial help for the state’s gaming and tourism industry and outdoor recreation and clean-energy companies.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., co-chair of both the Travel and Tourism Caucus and the Gaming Caucus, urged Pelosi in a conference call this month that any new relief package must include aid for those industries and the millions of workers they employ.

Efforts to help those industries were backed by the state delegation in a letter to congressional leaders signed by Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Titus and Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee, both Democrats, and Mark Amodei, a Republican.

Relief for hotels, casinos

Money totaling $500 billion for distressed corporations through loans and aid would be available to the Nevada industries that include hotels and casinos, congressional aides and an industry source said.

The pool of $500 billion for large corporations and industries became a sticking point in the negotiations.

Democrats raised concerns about the transparency of industry-based money, which would be doled out by the Treasury Department, and the need to tighten controls to ensure that companies used the money to avoid laying off workers, and not enrich executives with stock buybacks.

Mnuchin dismissed Democratic allegations that the process would be a “slush fund” for the Trump administration. And the president said in several briefings that he opposed misuse of the money by corporations that received aid.

Cortez Masto said Democrats never opposed the money for large companies or industry but just wanted tighter controls to help businesses recover and protect workers from layoffs or job losses.

“Everyone is fighting for the same thing,” she told the Review-Journal.

Republican senators and the White House crafted the overall bill to help provide cash liquidity to businesses, large and small, that were forced to shut down or curtail operations during the coronavirus outbreak.

Cash payments for workers

Senate Republicans and Democrats had reached an agreement to give cash payments to workers of up to $1,200 for those making $75,000 or less per year and reduced amounts for those making up to $99,000.

Families would receive $500 per child.

Despite weekend talks, a vote to advance the bill was blocked Sunday when the Senate voted 47-47, with all Democrats opposed, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate.

Democrats blocked the bill from advancing again Monday. The Senate voted 49-46, with only Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., voting with Republicans.

The delay brought recriminations from Republicans who accused Democrats of trying to lard the bill with ideological programs and projects not related to the economic crisis caused by the virus.

Democrats charged that the bill was corporate friendly and lacked the controls to safeguard against abuse and protect workers and provide more aid to those on the front lines of the medical battle.

The White House urged Congress to act quickly.

“If we get this package, we’ll be setting the stage for a good rebound in the second half of the year,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Tuesday at the White House.

“That’s our thinking,” Kudlow said. “This package will undergird workers and families, Main Street and small businesses.”

Once passed by the Senate, the bill will move to the Democrat-controlled House for approval.

Trump has urged lawmakers to quickly write and pass the legislation, which he has pledged to sign into law to help boost the economy following weeks of turmoil and financial losses.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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