Trump signs historic, $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill
CONTINUING COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS
By Tim Darnell
March 27, 2020
Hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill to help mitigate the impact of the continued pandemic, President Donald Trump signed the historic bill.
It’s slated to greatly relieve the devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system. The president announced earlier Friday that he planned to sign the bill at 4 p.m. By about 4:30, Trump confirmed he had signed what has been dubbed the CARES Act.
I just signed the CARES Act, the single biggest economic relief package in American History – twice as large as any relief bill ever enacted," the president proclaimed via his Twitter page. "At $2.2 Trillion Dollars, this bill will deliver urgently-needed relief for our nation's families, workers, and businesses."
I just signed the CARES Act, the single biggest economic relief package in American History – twice as large as any relief bill ever enacted. At $2.2 Trillion Dollars, this bill will deliver urgently-needed relief for our nation’s families, workers, and businesses. #CARESAct🇺🇸 https://t.co/0WnTNFZPZD
The House passed the sprawling measure Friday afternoon after almost five hours of debate, by a voice vote. The measure will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation's all but overwhelmed health care system.
“Today we've all acknowledged our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. President Donald Trump said he would sign the bill immediately.
Democratic and Republican leaders were working in tandem and hoping to quickly pass the measure by voice vote to accommodate members scattered around the country and reluctant to risk flying back to the Capitol. There were hand sanitizers at the end of each aisle in the chamber, where most lawmakers sat scattered apart from one another.
There was little doubt the House would give overwhelming final congressional approval to the largest economic bailout legislation in U.S. history. But U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was threatening to slow action by demanding a roll call vote.
That would have forced many lawmakers to make the journey to Washington to cast a vote on legislation that is certain to pass anyway, and it infuriated President Donald Trump and lawmakers from both parties.
On Friday morning, Trump decried Massie on Twitter.
After the House vote, Massie called for a voice vote and then a quorum vote, both attempts to delay the bill’s passage. Massie’s motion to call for a voice vote failed, and the House confirmed there was a quorum present.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the economy "may well be in recession" already and the government reported a shocking 3.3 million burst of weekly jobless claims, more than four times the previous record. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 1,000 from the virus.
Pelosi said Thursday issues like more generous food stamp payments, aid to state and local governments, and family leave may be revisited in subsequent legislation. "There's so many things we didn't get in ... that we need to," Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
The legislation will pour $1,200 direct payments to individuals and a flood of subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses facing extinction in an economic shutdown caused as Americans self-isolate by the tens of millions. It dwarfs prior Washington efforts to take on economic crises and natural disasters, such as the 2008 Wall Street bailout and President Barack Obama's first-year economic recovery act.
But key elements are untested, such as grants to small businesses to keep workers on payroll and complex lending programs to larger businesses. Millions of rebate payments will go to people who have retained their jobs.
Policymakers worry that bureaucracies like the Small Business Administration may become overwhelmed, and conservatives fear that a new, generous unemployment benefit will dissuade jobless people from returning to the workforce. A new, $500 billion subsidized lending program for larger businesses is unproven as well.
Leaders in both parties had hoped to pass the measure with a sparsely attended voice vote so scattered lawmakers don't have to risk exposure by travelling back to Washington.
Wednesday night's unanimous Senate vote on the bill was especially striking — a united front that followed days of sometimes tumultuous negotiations and partisan eruptions. Democrats twice voted to block the bill to seek further add-ons and changes.
"The power of the argument that we had — that you need a strong government to solve these problems, both health and economic — carried the day," Schumer told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Had we not stood up on those two votes it wouldn't have happened."
Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House's best guess of the spending it contains.
The rescue bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
Unemployment insurance would be made far more generous, with $600 per week tacked onto regular state jobless payments through the end of July. States and local governments would receive $150 billion in supplemental funding to help them provide basic and emergency services during the crisis.
"We call them checks in the mail, but most of them will be direct deposits," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday. "It will be within three weeks. We're determined to get money in people's pocket immediately."
The legislation also establishes a $454 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries in hopes of leveraging up to $4.5 trillion in lending to distressed businesses, states, and municipalities. All would be up to the Treasury Department's discretion, though businesses controlled by Trump or immediate family members and by members of Congress would be ineligible.
There was also $150 billion devoted to the health care system, including $100 billion for grants to hospitals and other health care providers buckling under the strain of COVID-19 caseloads.
Republicans successfully pressed for an employee retention tax credit that's estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers' paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. A huge tax break for interest costs and operating losses limited by the 2017 tax overhaul was restored at a $200 billion cost in a boon for the real estate sector.
An additional $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
Most people who contract the new coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.