Congress on Wednesday sent a $104 billion aid package to President Trump’s desk even as lawmakers mull a third, broader stimulus plan to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and bring relief to sectors of the economy that have been battered by the resulting crisis.
By a 90–8 vote, the Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which will provide free coronavirus testing, require smaller employers to grant two weeks of paid sick leave to employees, increase funding for Medicaid and food stamps, and expand unemployment insurance.
Eight Republican senators voted against the bill, which Trump is expected to sign, even after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell urged his caucus to “gag and vote for it anyway.” Some GOP lawmakers had expressed concern that the package could harm small businesses and insisted on amendments that initially held up the Senate vote.
“I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said, admitting that the plan has “real shortcomings.” He also promised that the Senate will not adjourn until the chamber passes a “far bolder package which must include significant relief for small businesses all across our country.”
Congress is still working on “phase three” of its coronavirus-response efforts, a massive plan that could cost as much as $850 billion to $1 trillion, including up to $500 billion in direct payments to Americans to offset the economic damage from the global spread of the virus. The Treasury Department’s proposal for the third package includes a proposed “$50 billion for the flagging airline industry, $150 billion for other suffering areas of the economy, and two rounds of direct payments totaling $250 billion each to Americans, the first on April 6 and the second on May 18.
There are currently no plans to pass the payroll-tax cut Trump initially floated, which met significant resistance on both sides of the aisle in Congress.