Congress clears 2nd major coronavirus package; 3rd in the works

Congress clears 2nd major coronavirus package; 3rd in the works
The U.S. Capitol. (Source: Toni Smith, USGS. Public domain)

WASHINGTON — A second major coronavirus package cleared the U.S. Senate Wednesday and is now headed to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The bill passed 90-8, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The multi-billion dollar measure aims to slow the spread of a new coronavirus and stimulate the economy as a major recession looms.

The package would provide free access to tests for the virus, including for those without health insurance. It would also give workers affected by the virus temporary paid sick leave, boost unemployment benefits, strengthen government food programs for children, older people and those with low incomes and help states meet expenses for Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.

Trump indicated his support for the bill last week. But it hit a political snag over the weekend, delaying final passage as social distancing measures set in and as the hospitality, entertainment, travel and other major industries ground to a virtual halt.

After intense negotiations with the White House last week, the U.S. House passed a version of the bill early Saturday morning. The Senate was expected to take it up Monday, but objections to paid sick leave provisions delayed passage.

Several senators sought to amend the bill during Wednesday’s floor debate, including a failed effort by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to strip out the paid leave provision and replace it with a new unemployment insurance fund for people affected by the pandemic.

The legislation comes after Trump signed an $8.3 billion measure earlier this month funding research, treatment, vaccines and personal protective equipment for health care workers.

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The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.