In Congress, one emergency bill passes, with (at least) one more to go

The good news: Congress passed an emergency coronavirus bill yesterday and Trump signed it. The better news: a much larger bill is (probably) on the way.
The Capitol building
MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA
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By Steve Benen

It took a little longer than expected, but Congress yesterday afternoon advanced the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, negotiated last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Senate voted to approve a second coronavirus aid bill Wednesday, paving the way for lawmakers to turn their attention to a third proposal that could include direct payments to Americans.... The measure provides free coronavirus testing and ensures paid emergency leave for those who are infected or caring for a family member with the illness. The bill also provides additional Medicaid funding, food assistance and unemployment benefits.

Passing the bill was supposed to be easier. It passed the House just after midnight on Saturday morning, passed the chamber again on Monday after addressing a technical fix, and was delayed in the Senate after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) demanded a vote on an amendment that stood no realistic chance of success. (It ended up receiving just three votes.)

When the measure came to the Senate floor, it passed 90 to 8. Each of the eight "no" votes came from Republicans. Donald Trump signed the bill into law soon after.

It was the second congressional response to the coronavirus crisis, following a relatively modest $8.3 billion emergency bill, focused on public-health infrastructure, which passed two weeks ago. But the real focus now is on the third emergency proposal -- or as it's being called on Capitol Hill, "Phase Three." The Trump administration has begun sketching out its blueprint.

The Treasury Department will ask Congress for $500 billion in direct payouts for taxpayers as part of a $1 trillion stimulus package to combat the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a proposal obtained by NBC News. The two rounds of direct payments to taxpayers, each totaling $250 billion, would be sent on April 6 and on May 18, according to the proposal. They would be tiered payments, with the amounts based on income level and family size, the proposal says. Both payments would be for the same amount.

While the direct government payments to individuals is the most prominent element of the package, NBC News' report added that the White House is also seeking "$50 billion for the airline industry, a small business interruption loan program of $300 billion and $150 billion for other distressed sectors."

By all accounts, Senate Republican leaders are helping sketch out this blueprint, and while there's been no public partisan disputes, Senate Democratic leaders have signaled a series of priorities, including conditions tied to industry bailouts. House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are working on their own related bill.

There's little doubt that an enormous bill will come together, with a price tag in the ballpark of $1.2 trillion. Indeed, that was the number being circulated yesterday, and it may yet grow. The questions at this point are how fast federal officials will spend, who'll get the money, what kind of strings will be attached, and how soon a fourth phase may be needed.