WASHINGTON • The US Senate’s unanimous passage of a US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) coronavirus relief Bill sent the unprecedented economic legislation to the House of Representatives, whose Democratic leaders hope to pass it today.
The Republican-led Senate approved the massive Bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to none late on Wed-nesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the Democratic-majority House.
The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global coronavirus pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.
Senate leaders noted the historic nature of the challenge posed by the coronavirus, which Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called “a strange and evil disease”.
“When there is a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” said Mr Schumer.
“Individuals, even with bravery and valour, are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”
The package is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic. It follows two others that became law this month.
The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total US$4.7 trillion the US government spends annually.
Republican President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign the Bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.
The US death toll from the coronavirus has hit 1,046, with almost 70,000 confirmed cases, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.
New York state led the country in terms of the total number of infections and deaths, but has begun showing tentative signs of slowing the spread of the disease.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that the rate of hospitalisations in New York has slowed in recent days, with numbers he called “almost too good to be true”.
But the health crisis deepened in hard-hit New Orleans and elsewhere in the country.
Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the US.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the US looks set to become the epicentre of the pandemic.
The House’s Democratic leaders announced that they would have a voice vote on the stimulus Bill today. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she backed the Bill, and was open to passing more legislation if needed to address the crisis in future.
The House Republican leadership is recommending a “yes” vote.
However, there has been criticism of the Bill from the most progressive wing of the Democratic-led House.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it “a historic corporate giveaway” on Twitter.
Mr Cuomo had also criticised the Bill, saying the US$3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover tax revenue it will lose from reduced economic activity.
Ms Pelosi expressed sympathy, but wanted the rescue package to move on. “We (Congress) do have to do more, but that would be no reason to stop this step that we are taking,” she told CNN.
The massive Bill includes a US$500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to US$3,000 apiece to millions of families.
The legislation will also provide US$350 billion for small-business loans, US$250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least US$100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE