US president signs $2.2tn stimulus package into law

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Members of the House of Representatives walk down the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, on Friday, after passing a coronavirus rescue package. -- Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package into law on 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 in the day, 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.

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.

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.

$1,200 direct payments

The legislation will give $1,200 direct payments to individuals and make way for a flood of subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses facing extinction in an economic shutdown caused as Americans self-isolate by the tens of millions. It dwarfs prior Washington responses to crises like 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and natural disasters.

The massive CARES Act started as a draft plan among Republicans controlling the Senate who were seeking a greater voice in the coronavirus response efforts -- especially after Pelosi was a dominant force in earlier legislation imposing a sick leave mandate on businesses. -- Agencies


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