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The long-awaited Senate vote on the coronavirus stimulus compromise bill is finally imminent Wednesday night, Fox News is told, and the final bill text now circulating on Capitol Hill omits a slew of items from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s version of the legislation.
Although nothing is definite yet, the Senate is expected to begin debating an amendment from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., shortly. The amendment would bar people from getting more from new unemployment benefits than they would have received on the job; the amendment would need 60 votes and is expected to fail.
Then, a vote will begin on final passage, requiring a simple majority.
The final bill text, obtained by Fox News, will use 2019 tax returns, if available, or 2018 tax returns to assess income for determining how much aid individuals receive. Those who did not file tax returns can use a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement or Form RRB-1099, a Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.
The 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.
Gone are mentions of mandatory early voting, requirements that federal agencies review their usage of “minority banks,” and provisions curbing airlines’ carbon emissions — a Pelosi wish list item that even Saikat Chakrabarti, the former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and an author of the Green New Deal, called “ridiculous.”
“What’s not in the Senate’s bipartisan coronavirus bill: Pelosi’s outrageous wish list,” wrote GOP national spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington. “0 mentions of ‘diversity.’ 0 mentions of ’emissions.’ 0 mentions of ‘early voting.’ 0 mentions of ‘climate change.’ Good!”
In the final bill text, $25 million would still be allocated for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. President Trump, speaking at the White House coronavirus briefing earlier Wednesday, said that he understood the provision was necessary because Democrats demanded some concessions in order to get the stimulus bill passed.
Pelosi was the first to demand the money in her own bill, which Republicans called an unseemly payout for a well-connected special interest.
The Kennedy Center put out a statement Wednesday evening saying it was “extraordinarily grateful that Congress has recognized our institution’s unique status and has included funding in its legislation to ensure that we can reopen our doors and stages as soon as we are able.”
Aside from direct payments to most Americans, the bill would expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
The movement came as stocks posted their first back-to-back gains in weeks, but much of Wednesday’s early rally faded as the hitch developed in the Senate. The market is down nearly 27 percent since setting a record high a month ago.
Amid the debate, presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders said he might try to torpedo the Senate’s stimulus package. Republican senators dropped their objections about what they called a “massive drafting error” related to unemployment benefits.
“In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation,” Sanders said in a statement, also posted on social media.
“Unless these Republican Senators drop their objections, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund to make sure that any corporation receiving financial assistance under this legislation does not lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas, or pay workers poverty wages,” he continued.
An objection by a single senator would prevent the Senate from quickly passing the bill by unanimous consent, although it remained possible that the chamber could pass the legislation by voice vote or roll-call vote. Fox News is told lawmakers are leaning toward approving the bill via voice vote, in which senators in the chamber shout “aye” or “nay,” with the loudest side winning.
The concern from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, R-S.C., Sasse, and Rick Scott, R-Fla., is that the current version of the bill could pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they’d make in salary, by sticking a $600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income. This could disrupt the labor market further, the lawmakers warn.
Graham shot back at Sanders’ latest warning in a series of posts on Twitter. “Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work,” Graham wrote. “I am all for making people’s salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people’s salary through the unemployment insurance system.”
Democrats and economists have countered that the point of the new unemployment benefit is, in fact, to make peoples’ salaries whole, and that companies could simply raise wages to compete and attract workers.
“The weird thing about this hypothetical ‘generous unemployment pay will discourage people from entering critical industries’ is… they could just raise wages?” Alex Godofsky wrote on Twitter. “Amazon has already raised wages. Like, it’s okay if wages – and prices – go up for a while. It’s fine.”
Others have noted that the unemployment benefits boost would expire in the summer. In an article entitled “Republican Senators’ Objection to Expanded Unemployment Benefits Makes Little Sense,” Josh Barro began by noting that “these are unemployment benefits, and you generally have to have been laid off to claim them.”
“We will continue to have virus-mitigation measures that create mass unemployment for a significant period, and even after those measures can be relaxed through much of the country, it will take some time for employers to re-ingest all the previously laid-off workers,” Barro wrote. “In fact, it’s likely that the shutdowns will persist long enough that the enhanced benefits will need to be extended. If we’re in a situation by July where all the shutdowns are over and employers are eagerly hiring and our biggest concern is too many people don’t want to go back to work, I will be overjoyed and very surprised.”
Late Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said unanimous consent was a nonstarter in the House, and implied that quick passage in the lower chamber may be unrealistic. Pelosi has called for members to have at least 24 hours to review the bill text once it’s available.
“That’s not gonna work,” she told reporters shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET, referring to unanimous consent. “Republicans have told us that’s not possible from their said. … What I’d like to see — because this a $2 trillion bill — I’d like to see a good debate on the floor.”
Meanwhile, the White House projected confidence. Insistently optimistic, President Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think it’s going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over. Yet he implored Congress late in the day to move on critical aid without further delay.
The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”
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 annual federal budget.
“A fight has arrived on our shores,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We did not seek it, we did not want it, but now we’re going to win it.”
One of the last issues to close in the bill concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines, given that Democrats wanted to restrict their carbon emissions. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
“There is a whole concern in our country that if we’re giving tens of billions of dollars to the airlines, that we could at least have a shared value about what happens to the environment,” Pelosi said Tuesday.
But, support for Democrats’ climate-change push in the stimulus bill withered Tuesday. The former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Saikat Chakrabarti, wrote on Twitter in response to Pelosi’s comments: “I helped write the #GreenNewDeal and I think this is ridiculous. The tiny little emissions standard increase doesn’t even do anything meaningful to stave off climate change and gives the @GOP leverage to get rid of real help for working people. Solve the problem at hand. Hospitals would get significant help as well.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Fox Business Network’s Hillary Vaughn, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.