Politics

House unlikely to vote on historic $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill Wednesday

Key Points
  • The White House and Senate leaders reached a deal early Wednesday on a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote and pass the legislation later Wednesday.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it "the largest rescue package in American history."
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to enhanced oversight of a $500 billion bailout fund that Democrats had criticized, according to a senior administration official.
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White House and Senate strike deal on historic $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

The White House and Senate leaders reached a deal early Wednesday on a massive $2 trillion relief bill — said to be the largest rescue package in American history — to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

As of Wednesday morning, though, the Senate was still drafting the final details of the text. A senior Democratic aide told CNBC that due to procedural reasons, including how long it is taking the Senate to send over a draft of the bill, it is unlikely the House will vote on it Wednesday. The House needs to pass the bill before it can reach President Donald Trump's desk. 

Efforts to pass the measure have taken on urgency as hospitals, companies, states and individuals have all pleaded for needed resources to battle the pandemic. Its impact has now reached into the Senate: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., earlier this week announced he has tested positive for coronavirus.

"The Senate is going to stand together, act together and pass this historic relief package today," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday afternoon. 

In announcing the deal early Wednesday morning, the Kentucky Republican called the proposal is effectively "a war-time level of investment in our nation." He promised the bill would rush financial assistance to Americans through direct checks to households, enhanced unemployment insurance, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency loans to small businesses, and more resources for hospitals and medical equipment.

The Senate has yet to release the final terms of the deal. An earlier draft seen Tuesday would provide cash payments of up to $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for married couples and $500 per child, reduced if an individual makes more than $75,000 or a couple makes more than $150,000. 

The draft language also stipulated a $350 billion fund for small businesses to mitigate layoffs and support payroll.

Employers will get a deferral of payroll taxes,  and pay them back on a staggered basis in the coming years, the administration official said. The deferral only applies to employers, and not employees.  

McConnell said the bill would "stabilize key national industries" to prevent as many layoffs as possible, likely referring in part aid the deal allocates to the U.S. airline industry. The industry employs some 750,000 people.

Carriers have been racing to cut costs, grounding hundreds of planes and asking thousands of workers to take unpaid leave. Airlines are also tapping credit lines to shore up cash to weather the crisis, the impact of which they say is worse than 9/11.

The details of airline aid was one of the last major outstanding issues Tuesday night.  Airlines have pushed for half their aid in grants, warning that receiving it entirely in loans would load them with too much debt. 

Senators on Wednesday were moving ahead with $60 billion in aid for the beleaguered airline industry. That included $25 billion in direct cash grants for passenger carriers, $4 billion for cargo airlines and $3 billion for airline contractors, such as catering workers, in exchange for their employers agreeing not to furlough workers through the end of September.

The rest of the aid will be in form of loans with warrant provisions.

According to the draft language, which still may change, airlines have agreed to limits on executive compensation as part of taking on federal aid. They will be barred from stock buybacks while receiving assistance, and from providing stock dividends for a year after the bailout.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, holds a press briefing about legislation in response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 17, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

"After five days of arduous negotiations, after sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiating sessions, we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history," Schumer said on the floor Wednesday morning. 

He touted "unemployment compensation on steroids," which would cover every American for four months, as the U.S. braces for historic layoffs and furloughs.

The New York Democrat promised oversight on the loans the U.S. offers businesses, saying "every loan document will be made public very quickly" to make sure those loans are fair. He also said an inspector general and an oversight board would supervise the loans, after earlier criticism from Democrats that a proposed $500 billion fund for businesses left too much discretion to the Treasury. 

Businesses controlled by the president, vice president, congressional lawmakers and heads of executive departments are barred from receiving loans, Schumer wrote in his early morning letter to senators. The hotel industry is among the hardest hit. Trump himself owns several of them.

The president is aware of and agreed to that provision, according the a senior administration official. 

Schumer also wrote that the bill bars stock buybacks for the term of the government assistance plus one year on any company receiving a loan through the legislation.  

The legislation would also bar certain companies from paying dividends to shareholders for one year after the loan is paid back, and from reducing their employment levels by 10% until the end of September.

The deal will allocate $150 billion to states and localities battling the pandemic and $55 billion more for the health-care system. 

US Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, speaks during a press briefing about the response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 17, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

According to Schumer's letter to colleagues, the deal also includes $10 billion in Small Business Administration emergency grants and up to $10 million of emergency relief per business. It allocates $17 billion for the SBA to cover six months of payment for small businesses with existing SBA loans.

It will offer $30 billion in emergency education funding and $25 billion in emergency transit funding. 

McConnell said the Senate will vote and pass the legislation later Wednesday. As of Wednesday morning, the Senate was still drafting language, with plans to vote on the bill late afternoon, a person familiar with the situation said. 

The House will not move the bill Wednesday after a brief pro forma session in the morning, according to a Democratic aide. 

House weighs in

Any deal the GOP-controlled Senate approves needs to be passed by the Democratic-led House. It is possible House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has been talking with Schumer, could push for more changes to the Senate bill before giving it the go-ahead.

On Wednesday morning, Pelosi said in a statement that the "bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people," noting that Democrats had made significant changes to an original proposal crafted by Republicans and the Trump administration.

Pelosi this week released her own House stimulus proposal, which though largely symbolic, laid out the Democrats' agenda. It included regulations over carbon emissions and tough oversight of companies accepting federal loans. 

In her statement Wednesday, Pelosi said House Democrats will now "review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) makes a statement about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) economic relief legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2020.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

If the two parties have unanimous consent over the bill, it can move quickly through the House.

"If we don't have unanimous consent," Pelosi cautioned Tuesday, "my two options with my members is: We can call them back to vote to amend this bill, or to pass our own bill and then go to conference with that."

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Wednesday morning that Trump is eager to sign the bill.

The president has been very active in this process, so he's well aware of what is in it," Grisham said on Fox News.

"He's been pushing for congress to do the right thing and get ready help the American people. So we're really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law," she said.

Stock futures were mixed early Wednesday, following Tuesday's historic rally.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (C) leaves the offices of Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) as negotiations continue into the night on a $2 trillion economic stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic at the U.S. Capitol March 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

CNBC's Leslie Josephs, Eamon Javers, Jacob Pramuk and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.

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House speaker Pelosi: There's 'real optimism' that stimulus bill can be reached in next few hours