White House, Congress reach deal on major coronavirus relief package

US Congress at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP)

The White House and Senate leaders of both parties struck an agreement late Tuesday on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

The agreement came after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure and still needed to be finalized in detailed legislative language.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal,” Ueland said.

The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

The final details had proved nettlesome. One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

The package was aimed to combat what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had called “the most serious threat to Americans’ health in over a century and quite likely the greatest risk to America’s jobs and prosperity that we’ve seen since the Great Depression.”

Trump eager for Americans to return to work

Yet even as the public-health crisis deepened, President Donald Trump expressed eagerness to nudge many people back to work in coming weeks and held out a prospect, based more on hope than science, that the country could be returning to normal in less than a month.

“We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought,” Trump told a Fox News town hall. He said he'd like to have the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter, April 12. But in a White House briefing later, Trump said "our decision will be based on hard facts and data.”

Medical professionals say social distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections. At the White House briefing, the public-health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and for those who have recently left the city to do the same.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 25 March 2020 KSA 09:05 - GMT 06:05
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