Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.
Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.
The Associated Press
Updated: March 27, 2020 06:44 PM
Created: March 27, 2020 03:41 PM
President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package into law Friday, after swift and near-unanimous action by Congress this week to support businesses, rush resources to overburdened health care providers and help struggling families during the deepening coronavirus epidemic.
Acting with unity and resolve unseen since the 9/11 attacks, Washington moved urgently to stem an economic free fall caused by widespread restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus that have shuttered schools, closed businesses and brought American life in many places to a virtual standstill.
“This will deliver urgently needed relief," Trump said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office, flanked only by Republican lawmakers. He thanked members of both parties for putting Americans “first.”
Earlier Friday, the House of Representatives gave near-unanimous approval by voice vote after an impassioned session conducted along the social distancing guidelines imposed by the crisis. Many lawmakers sped to Washington to participate - their numbers swollen after a maverick Republican signaled he'd try to force a roll call vote - though dozens of others remained safely in their home districts.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously late Wednesday.
“The American people deserve a government-wide, visionary, evidence-based response to address these threats to their lives and their livelihood and they need it now,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The $2.2 trillion legislation will speed government payments of $1,200 to most Americans and increase jobless benefits for millions of people thrown out of work. Businesses big and small will get loans, grants and tax breaks. It will send unprecedented billions to states and local governments, and the nation's all but overwhelmed health care system.
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“This pathogen does not recognize party lines, and no partisan solution will defeat it. Neither will the government acting alone,” said GOP Whip Liz Cheney of Wyoming. “This is not a time for cynicism or invective or second-guessing. This is a time to remember that we are citizens of the greatest nation on Earth, that we have overcome every challenge we have faced, and we will overcome this one.”
Despite reservations, arch conservatives joined with progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to back the bill, which moved quickly through a Congress that’s been battered by partisanship and is itself not immune to the suffering the virus has caused. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., announced Friday that he has tested positive, just the latest infection in Congress.
Tea party Republicans said government orders to shutter businesses merited actions that conflict with small-government ideology. Liberals accepted generous corporate rescues that accompany larger unemployment benefits, deferrals of student loans, and an enormous surge of funding for health care and other agencies responding to the crisis.
“I’m going to have to vote for something that has things in it that break my heart,” said conservative Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.
Many lawmakers summoned the bipartisan spirit of 9/11 and efforts to fight terrorism. Others praised the roles low-income workers play in keeping the country going and the heroism of health care workers. Some, like Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who had just learned of two additional coronavirus-related deaths in her district, came close to tears.
Others couldn’t restrain their partisan impulses. Republicans chided Democratic leaders for delays and provisions they see as extraneous, such as funding for public broadcasting and the arts; Democrats said too many elements are a bailout for corporations that may not need it.
Still, in a chamber increasingly dominated by lawmakers whose chief skill often seems to be partisan attacks, Friday’s debate was a noteworthy break.
“We have no time to dither," said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. "We have no time to engage in ideological or petty partisan fights. Our country needs us as one.”
The run-up to the vote contained an element of drama because libertarian conservative Thomas Massie, R-Ky., announced plans to seek a vote. The leaders of both parties united to prevent that because it would have forced lawmakers back to the Capitol or blemished their voting records if they stayed home. Instead, they made sure enough lawmakers would attend Friday's session to block Massie's move under the rules, and lawmakers took the unprecedented step of sitting in the visitors galleries to establish the necessary quorum.
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