Make your home page

Senate approves $500B virus aid deal; sends to House

President Donald Trump speaks during a daily briefing of the coronavirus task force at the White House April 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. Oil prices fell below zero today due to a collapsed energy demand and near capacity of storage tanks in the U.S. that has been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A $483 billion coronavirus aid package flew through the Senate on Tuesday after Congress and the White House reached a deal to replenish a small-business payroll fund and provided new money for hospitals and testing.

Passage was swift and unanimous, despite opposition from conservative Republicans. President Donald Trump tweeted his support, pledging to sign it into law. It now goes to the House, with votes set for Thursday.

“I urge the House to pass the bill,” Trump said at the White House.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations and deadlock, Congress and the White House reached agreement Tuesday on the nearly $500 billion package — the fourth as Washington strains to respond to the health and economic crisis.

“The Senate is continuing to stand by the American
people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to an
almost empty chamber.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said
the bill was made “better and broader” after Democrats forced the
inclusion of money for hospitals and testing.

A copy of the measure was provided to The Associated Press by a GOP aide.

Most of the funding, $331 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program
that ran out of money last week. An additional $75 billion would be
given to hospitals, and $25 billion would be spent to boost testing for
the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen
state economies.

Missing from the package, however, was extra
funding for state and local governments staring down budget holes and
desperate to avert furloughs and layoffs of workers needed to keep
cities running.

Trump said he was open to including in a
subsequent virus aid package fiscal relief for state and local
government — which Democrats wanted for the current bill — along with
infrastructure projects.

Not all Republicans are backing Trump on the deal.

conservative Republicans, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul,
R-Ky., voiced opposition during Tuesday’s session but did not halt

Lee said it was “unacceptable” that the full Senate was
not present and voting in the pro forma session as Congress shuttered
during the virus outbreak.

Paul said no amount of federal funding
will be able to salvage a shuttered economy. “Deaths from infectious
disease will continue, but we cannot continue to indefinitely
quarantine,” said Paul, who tested positive for the virus last month but has since recovered.

The House is being called to Washington for a Thursday vote, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader.

D-Md., said the House will also vote on a proposal to allow proxy
voting on future business during the pandemic, a first for Congress,
which has required in-person business essentially since its founding.

“The House must show the American people that we continue to work hard on their behalf,” Hoyer wrote to colleagues.

But the landmark rules change met with objections from conservative Republicans.

don’t support it at all,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., one of a
handful of Republicans who showed up for Tuesday’s pro forma session to
protest proxy votes. “Congress should be in session.”

concerns, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wrote Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seeking more information on plans to reopen the

The emerging virus aid package — originally designed by
Republicans as a $250 billion stopgap to replenish the payroll subsidies
for smaller businesses — has grown into the second largest of the four
coronavirus response bills so far.

Democratic demands have caused the measure to balloon, though Republicans support additions for hospitals and testing.

now $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program includes $60
billion or so set aside for — and divided equally among — smaller banks
and community lenders that seek to focus on underbanked neighborhoods
and rural areas. Democrats have highlighted the number of smaller and
minority-owned shops missing out on the aid.

Another $60 billion
would be available for a small-business loans and grants program
delivered through an existing small business disaster aid program, $10
billion of which would come in the form of direct grants.

bill provides $25 billion for increased testing efforts, including at
least $11 billion to state and tribal governments to detect and track
new infections. The rest will help fund federal research into new
coronavirus testing options.

Currently, the U.S. has tested
roughly 4 million people for the virus, or just over 1% of its
population, according to the Covid Tracking Project website.

the White House says the U.S. has enough testing to begin easing social
distancing measures, most experts say capacity needs to increase at
least threefold, if not more.

Despite yet another big package from Congress, all sides say more aid is likely needed.

Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlined infrastructure and broadband spending
for the next bill. And there’s pressure to help cities with populations
of less than 500,000 that were shut out of the massive $2 trillion
relief bill that passed last month.

Schumer said Monday that he
had talked to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell and that
Powell said the Fed is working to open up the Main Street Lending
program to nonprofits and municipal governments.

The government’s
Paycheck Protection Program has been swamped by companies applying for
loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving
nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in
limbo as they sought help.

Controversies have enveloped the program, with many businesses complaining that banks have favored customers with whom they already do business. Some businesses that haven’t been harmed much by the pandemic have also received loans, along with a number of publicly traded corporations.

Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone, Mary Clare Jalonick and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.