Senate to move forward on coronavirus stimulus bill after striking deal

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Senate agrees on massive coronavirus package

Washington — The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a $2 trillion stimulus bill responding to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, after lengthy negotiations between congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials resulted in an early morning breakthrough.

The legislation is the largest stimulus package in American history, and includes an expansion of unemployment benefits, direct payments to taxpayers and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to companies, hospitals and state and local governments. Congressional aides were finalizing the legislative text of the bill Wednesday morning.

"After 5 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," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor shortly before 2 a.m.

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"This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity. The anguish of the American people wondering about the future of their health, the health of their loved ones and the economy necessitates us to do all we can to help them and help our country," Schumer continued.

Schumer and other congressional Democrats had argued that the original bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week lacked transparency, and did more to aid corporations than working Americans. Democrats blocked procedural votes on the McConnell legislation on Sunday and Monday, while Schumer negotiated with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other White House officials to craft a deal.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus in Washington on March 20, 2019. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

McConnell announced in a speech on the Senate floor early Wednesday morning that there will be a vote to pass the legislation later in the day. The Senate is back in session at noon.

If approved by the Senate, the measure will go to the House for a vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who introduced her own competing bill earlier in the week, indicated in a statement that she was pleased with the final Senate package.

"The Republican bill proposed by Senator McConnell on Sunday was a non-starter. This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people," Pelosi said. "House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action."

Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she was "optimistic" about the Senate bill. The House is not expected to vote on the bill today.

Mnuchin told reporters Wednesday morning that President Trump would "absolutely" be pleased to sign the newly negotiated bill.

"This is a very important bipartisan piece of legislation that is going to be very important to help American workers, American business, and people across America. So, we couldn't be more pleased," Mnuchin told reporters. "I've spoken to the president many times today and he's very pleased with this legislation, and the impact that this is going to have."

The timing of the Senate vote remains uncertain. Schumer told CBS News that aides are still drafting legislative text to reflect some of the final elements of the bill that were agreed upon last night. That text needs to be reviewed by the leadership offices on both sides, plus administration officials, and any necessary tweaks must be made before it can be inserted into the bill.

Schumer could not say how long all that would take, but he and McConnell still insisted that a vote will take place sometime Wednesday.

The finalized plan, according to Schumer's office, includes expansion of the unemployment insurance program, increasing the maximum unemployment insurance payment by $600 per week for four months. It also provides $150 billion to invest in hospitals, and increases in funding for state, local and tribal governments to respond to the crisis.

The newly negotiated package also resolves some of the criticisms by Democrats about transparency. The bill would prohibit businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress and heads of executive branch agencies from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs. It would also require any loans granted to big businesses to be disclosed, a key sticking point in earlier talks.

The initial proposal by McConnell also included direct cash payments of $1,200 to most Americans earning under $75,000 per year. Schumer's summary of the deal didn't indicate there had been any changes to this provision.

The package is the third phase of the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic. The president has previously signed an $8.3 billion emergency relief bill and another response bill written by House Democrats which mandated free testing and paid medical and family leave for certain workers.

Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.

First published on March 25, 2020 / 10:04 AM

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Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.