Senate passes $484B coronavirus bill aimed to help businesses, hospitals

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a near half-trillion-dollar coronavirus bill on Tuesday to replenish a small-business loan program and fund hospitals and testing efforts.

The $484 billion bill is the fourth large coronavirus deal since last month — and comes after a political standoff caused a lapse last week in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which gives businesses loans that will be forgiven if they don’t lay off workers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought unsuccessfully to pass a $250 billion expansion of the loan program this month, but was blocked by Democrats who wanted a larger package including aid for state and local governments, which ultimately was not included in the deal.

McConnell said Tuesday that “it’s unfortunate that it took our Democratic colleagues 12 days to agree to a deal that contains essentially nothing that Republicans ever opposed.”

“The American people cannot be political leverage,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered a different view, saying, “Help is on the way because Democrats stood and fought for it.”

The deal includes $75 billion in aid for health care facilities and $25 billion for national testing efforts.

The centerpiece of the deal nearly doubles the initial $350 billion small-business loan program set up by the more than $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that passed last month.

The deal includes $60 billion set-aside for small banks, credit unions and other community lenders to expand the PPP to more businesses, including those without bank accounts.

Another $50 billion goes to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and $10 billion to the SBA’s Emergency Economic Injury Grant program.

The final cost was nudged higher by accounting for administrative costs.

Senate debate was brief Tuesday. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) cited reports about large companies taking loans meant for small business. He said it was important to “do our oversight to make sure it there’s abuse we put a spotlight on it.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the only lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19, said he opposed the bill out of concern for the national debt.

Ending the “draconian lockdown of the American economy,” was the proper remedy, Paul said, saying the economy is “being strangled by quarantine.”

Joblessness soared by 17 million — or more than 10 percent of the workforce — during the first three weeks of widespread business closures.

The House is expected to pass the legislation as early as Thursday and may feature proxy voting for the first time.

Schumer said Tuesday he wanted a fifth coronavirus bill to include rental assistance, hazard pay and aid to states. President Trump has pushed for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill.

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