Relief after milestone rescue package sealed

Top News | AGENCIES 26 Mar 2020

The US Senate has reached agreement on a US$2 trillion (HK$15.6 trillion) stimulus package for the American economy and people suffering amid the virus crisis.

"At last, we have a deal," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, hailing the "wartime level of investment" deal reached after five days of tense talks.

"We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.

"So many people are being put out of work through no fault of their own ... Well, we come to their rescue."

The Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic House of Representatives still need to pass the legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The deal will mean about US$2 trillion going to health facilities, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under the strain of the pandemic. Cash will go directly into the hands of Americans while there will be grants to small businesses and hundreds of billions of US dollars in loans for big corporations, including airlines.

It also proposes the injection of US$130 billion into what Schumer calls "a Marshall Plan for hospitals" and health care infrastructure, referring to the American aid program to rebuild Europe after World War II.

With infection numbers rising from coast to coast, hospitals are in dire need of much equipment.

McConnell and Schumer negotiated the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House officials after days of feuding over the final package.

Trump earlier called for an immediate end to the stalemate, saying: "Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense."

Democrats had rejected the original package, arguing it put corporations ahead of workers including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has infected 55,000 and killed nearly 800 in the United States.

And after the Senate it will need to clear the Democratic-led House before going to Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had pushed for a more generous, roughly US$2.5 trillion counter-proposal that included elements like guaranteed paid and family medical leave, student loan forgiveness and oversight of the US$500 billion earmarked for corporations.

But she indicated the House may simply take up the bill and try to pass it. "Much of what we have in our bill is reflected in this supposed agreement," she said.

According to Schumer, the compromise legislation includes an oversight mechanism for loans to companies and will guarantee that laid-off workers "on average will receive full pay for four months."

Pelosi suggested the measure might even pass the House by unanimous consent.

But getting 435 lawmakers to swallow a gargantuan rescue package without debate could be hard work in a sharply divided chamber.

Congressman Justin Amash, who quit the Republicans after feuding with Trump, said the Senate deal gave "far too little for those who need the most help while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare."

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