The United States Senate approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Wednesday evening, a historic bill costing about $2 trillion dollars.
The CARES Act was passed unanimously through the Senate, and now the bill will return to the House for consideration before it can be sent to the president.
According to the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill contains several provisions for the economic relief of Americans disrupted by the ongoing pandemic:
- $290 billion for “individual tax rebates,” roughly amounting to a $1,200 check for each adult, plus additional amounts for children;
- $350 billion for help to small businesses, which uses a loaning process but is characterized as grants;
- $250 billion for unemployment, which is expected to include standard unemployment payments plus $600 per week through the end of July;
- $500 billion in lending to “distressed industries;”
- $232 billion for “business cash flow;”
- And $340 billion in appropriations for “health, schools, and communities.”
The last item on the list includes things more directly related to the coronavirus, such as $1 billion for Defense Production Act purchases, while also including some controversial funding, such as $25 million for the Kennedy Center.
This new deal comes after Senate Democrats stonewalled an earlier $1.8 trillion version which included over $1 trillion in direct payments to individuals, $200 billion in loans to airlines, and $300 billion in low-interest, long-term loans for small businesses.
At the direction of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Democrats prevented Republicans from reaching cloture on the bill — which would have moved the bill to the floor for debate on Sunday.
Among the Democratic demands for the bill included robust collective bargaining provisions, higher emissions standards for airlines, and renewable energy tax credits.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized Democrats for politicizing and delaying the relief deal, saying on the Senate floor, “There is a time for political disagreements. There is a time for policy disagreements. I am no stranger to robust political and policy disagreements. But we are in the midst of a global pandemic. People are dying. People are suffering.”
Tensions flared at the last moment, too, as four Republicans — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) — tried adjusting the legislation so that the additional unemployment benefits are not above 100 percent of the pay recipients received in the job they previously held.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that was the ideal outcome, but that officials from the Department of Labor told the senators that most state systems would not be capable of performing those calculations.
Cruz asked Durbin if he would accept the proposed amendment if there was a modification taking into consideration the administrative difficulties of some states (e.g. an extra clause limiting to 100 percent of previous pay “to the extent possible”), but Durbin refused to answer.
Needing 60 votes to pass, the Senate rejected the Republicans’ proposed amendment.
Partisan tensions have flared recently in Congress, with this Senate standoff just being the latest episode.
The unprecedented bill that the Senate just passed has been called Phase III of the congressional response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Phase II created a major expansion of paid sick leave requirements negotiated by Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for businesses below 500 employees. That bill was passed overwhelmingly by the House last week, but included 40 ‘No’ votes from Republicans concerned about the mandate’s impact on small businesses.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01) nearly stalled the Phase II bill after House leadership tried to pass by unanimous consent an over 100 page “technical correction” amendment — that had yet to be finalized — before its details were read to the members. Ultimately, Gohmert relented after House leadership walked him through the details.
As of this evening, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states there are 54,453 known cases of coronavirus in the United States with 737 deaths — a rate of 1.4 percent. Due to the U.S.’s limited testing capacity, however, the total number of actual coronavirus cases may be higher.
Since the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other ailments, it is also possible that the death toll is higher if deaths that occurred in the early stages of the pandemic were counted as caused by other illnesses, such as pneumonia or the flu.
In a press conference yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott stated Texas has 715 positive cases and 11 deaths from coronavirus.
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.