White House, Congress Agree On Relief Package

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2020-03-25 HKT 17:01

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  • White House official Eric Ueland speaks on a phone outside a meeting room on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP

    White House official Eric Ueland speaks on a phone outside a meeting room on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP

The White House and Senate leaders of both parties announced agreement on unprecedented emergency legislation to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. It still needs to be finalised in detailed legislative language.

"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 US$367 billion programme for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

One of the last issues to close concerned US$500 billion for guaranteed, subsidised loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

"After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic," said Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a key negotiator.

At the White House on Tuesday, 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 that "our decision will be based on hard facts and data”.

On Capitol Hill, five days of arduous talks produced the bill.

Even before the deal was reached, news of the likely but elusive agreement had sent the stock market rocketing on Tuesday.

The emerging rescue package would be larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.

The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct a one-time payment of US$1,200 per adult and US$500 per child directly to the public. (AP)