The plan comes as the coronavirus threatens to cripple the U.S. economy and continues to spread across the country.
The Senate is expected to pass a multi-billion dollar emergency aid package on Wednesday to confront the economic impacts of the coronavirus, clearing the way for negotiations on a third, even larger stimulus package to address the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his support Wednesday for the House–passed package and vowed to address any “imperfections” in the Senate’s subsequent bill — which McConnell promised to craft at “warp speed.”
“It is a well-intentioned bipartisan product assembled by House Democrats and President Trump’s team that tries to stand up and expand some new relief measures for American workers,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said of the House bill, which lawmakers passed early Saturday and later approved technical corrections on Monday.
Despite “real shortcomings” in the legislation, McConnell said, “in this case I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers.”
Several GOP senators have already expressed reservations about the House bill, which has a price tag of around $100 billion. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fiscal hawk, is seeking a vote on an amendment that includes provisions to pay for the package. Other Republican senators are uncomfortable with the expansion of paid sick leave — a key aspect of the bill.
But as the coronavirus spreads across the country and the stock market continues to plunge, there is widespread recognition that the Senate needs to act swiftly and assist individuals as well as small businesses. The House bill is expected to clear the Senate on Wednesday afternoon with bipartisan majorities in both parties.
In a sign of the personal precautions members are taking against the coronavirus, McConnell urged his colleagues to avoid congregating on the Senate floor and to leave the chamber as soon as they cast their vote.
While no lawmaker has contracted the virus, several senators have self-quarantined after possible exposure, and at least one Senate staffer has tested positive for coronavirus.
And senators are continuing to urge President Donald Trump to take drastic actions usually only seen during wartime. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the president to invoke the Defense Production Act, which could significantly increase the production of critical equipment including hospital beds and other medical supplies.
“If you ignore the public health crisis with the equipment and infrastructure and personnel that is needed in many more numbers than we’ve ever seen, the economy won’t get better,” Schumer said.