The Senate has cleared a $104 billion federal aid package which is aimed at responding to the coronavirus pandemic, freeing up lawmakers to focus on a third, much more significant stimulus plan that could cost in the range of $1 trillion.
The $104 billion measure, which President Trump is expected to sign quickly, provides up to 10 days of sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family leave for some workers. It also pays for free coronavirus testing for those who need it.
The measure passed over the objection of a group of Republicans who said it will place a tremendous financial burden on small businesses that are already struggling due to the drastic economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus threat.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, acknowledged the small business burden created by the legislation, but he said the issue would be addressed and resolved in the next stimulus package.
“This is literally the worst time in living memory to pile on even more burdens and costs on to small businesses, which are themselves fighting to stay alive,” McConnell said. “Unless we back it up with major assistance,” he continued.
It will also increase Medicaid funding, expand unemployment insurance, and provide more money for food stamps, aiming to provide an initial safety net as layoffs begin and coronavirus cases hit every state.
Senate Republicans huddled earlier in the week with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to begin developing the major stimulus package amid dire economic news. Proposals include loans to small businesses, direct cash payments to working adults, and financial aid to the airlines.
McConnell promised to devise and pass the measure “at warp speed,” but it could take time to work out a deal within the GOP conference and with Democrats, who have their own stimulus proposals.
The discord was evident on Wednesday, when the Senate rejected three amendments to the $104 billion package before eventually passing it.
The measure passed the Senate 90-8, and it now goes to President Trump for his expected signature.
Meanwhile, the White House Office of Management and Budget has sent a request for $45.8 billion in emergency funding to Capitol Hill. Instead of broad fiscal stimulus, the request is aimed at bolstering federal agencies responding to the pandemic, proposing an additional $11.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, with $3.4 billion of that put toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lawmakers are reviewing the funding request, which may ultimately be incorporated into the third economic package that the administration and Congress are racing to formulate in the coming days.