In March, Congress passed three aid packages in response to the coronavirus crisis, and each became law without a lot of drama. The fourth economic package proved to be more challenging, but it now appears to be on track after yesterday's breakthrough.
The Senate passed a nearly $500 billion interim coronavirus bill by voice vote Tuesday that includes additional money for the small-business loan program, as well as for hospitals and testing, making way for the legislation to become law as soon as the end of the week.
The pieces fell into place quickly yesterday. It was, after all, just 24 hours ago that negotiators were still ironing out the details of a possible agreement. By late morning, there was a deal, and by mid-afternoon, the package was clearing the upper chamber in a voice vote.
So, what's in it? The biggest slice of the pie, not surprisingly, is a $310 billion infusion for the Paycheck Protection Program -- a key element of the CARES Act, intended to benefit small businesses, which ran out of money a week ago. Democratic leaders successfully negotiated some reforms for the PPP, including tens of billions of dollars set aside specifically for small and mid-sized banks and community-based lenders. Dems also secured additional funding for emergency disaster grants and loans through the Small Business Association.
Just as importantly, though Republican lawmakers were determined to limit the legislation to the PPP, Democrats also negotiated an additional $100 billion for hospitals and medical providers, including money for protective medical equipment and expanded virus testing.
That last point was a sticking point that delayed the process: the White House was on board with the additional $25 billion the bill devoted to testing supplies and access, but Team Trump did not want to commit to a national strategic testing policy, preferring to leave matters to the states. Democrats nevertheless pushed for a national strategic testing policy, which ended up in the final agreement.
That's the good news. The bad news is the bill does not include some top Democratic priorities, including additional funding for aid to states and municipalities. It's among the reasons why, as you may have seen on last night's show, some progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), believe this new package is too modest.
The expectation is that policymakers will consider other priorities -- including hazard pay for frontline workers -- in the next aid package, but the timeline on that bill is murky, and Republicans are already starting to temper their ambitions for the next round of talks.
As for the short term, House leaders intend to bring the latest package to the floor tomorrow, and members are being encouraged to get to Capitol Hill for the vote. I haven't seen a firm head count, but with the bill having already cleared the Senate, and with both parties' leaders endorsing the bipartisan agreement, it's likely to pass. Probably. I think.
Donald Trump supports the package and has said he'll sign it once it reaches his desk. In theory, that should happen late tomorrow. Watch this space.