WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion emergency relief bill Wednesday night aimed at limiting the financial trauma that the coronavirus pandemic is inflicting on the United States, and lawmakers acted with unusual speed to produce the largest economic rescue package in the nation's history.
The sprawling legislation, which passed 96-0, would send checks to more than 150 million American households, set up enormous loan programs for businesses large and small, pump money into unemployment insurance programs, greatly boost spending on hospitals, and much more.
Illustrating how grave the situation has become in the United States, the most liberal and conservative senators joined to support the mammoth spending bill.
The legislation's goal is to flood the economy with money at a time of nearly unprecedented financial chaos, with entire states on lockdown, many business closed and the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus quickly on the rise.
The Senate vote sends the bill to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expects it to be approved Friday morning. President Donald Trump said he intends to sign it immediately.
Crisis 'totally unprecedented in living memory'
"Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said ahead of the vote, after which the Senate intended to recess until April 20 unless urgent legislative action is needed before then.
"Let's stay connected and continue to collaborate on the best ways to keep helping our states and our country through this pandemic," McConnell said. "Let's continue to pray for one another, for all of our families, and for our country."
The vote came on the eve of the release of new figures from the Labor Department on the number of workers who applied for unemployment benefits during the week ending March 21. The number is expected to set a record, with estimates ranging from 2 million to 4 million. The prior record was just under 700,000 during a week in October 1982.
"The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt," said Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "Our country has faced immense challenges before, but rarely so many at the same time."
The bill would extend $1,200 to most American adults and $500 for most children, create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states, and a $367 billion employee retention fund for small businesses. It would direct $130 billion to hospitals and provide four months of expanded unemployment insurance, among other things.
Lawmakers and the White House were bombarded with lobbyists and special interest groups seeking assistance during the negotiations, and the price tag rose from $850 billion to $2.2 trillion in just a matter of days.