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Democrats have called an aspect of the GOP bill a “slush fund” that would give Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (center) the ability to help industries without transparency. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate fails to agree to $1.8 trillion COVID-19 relief

Janet Nguyen Mar 23, 2020
Democrats have called an aspect of the GOP bill a “slush fund” that would give Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (center) the ability to help industries without transparency. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

For the second day in a row, Congress has failed to reach an agreement over a nearly $2 trillion economic aid package as businesses across the country shutter and lay off their workers.

In a 49-46 vote, Senate Democrats blocked the bill on Monday, which would have needed 60 votes to move forward.

Democrats had previously rejected the GOP’s plans on Sunday in a 47-to-47 vote over concerns that the package prioritized bailouts for big companies over worker protections and that it failed to take into account hospitals and health care workers. Five Republican senators are in self-quarantine and have been unable to participate in these key votes.

The bill earmarks $500 billion to help out businesses like airlines and car manufacturers, including corporations like Boeing, which economists argue is too big to fail. That amount has been a major point of contention among Democrats, who have called it a “slush fund” and argued that it gives Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin the ability to help industries without transparency.

The GOP proposal would also send direct checks to Americans who make less than a certain threshold, with $1,200 going to adults and $500 to children.

About 281,000 Americans filed unemployment claims for the week of March 14 — a 70,000 increase from the week before. According to one estimate, 18% of U.S. workers have lost jobs or hours since the new coronavirus began to spread across America.

The steps being taken on Capitol Hill, or lack thereof, have shaken financial markets. At one point on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined more than 800 points, before ultimately closing more than 580 points lower since Friday. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 dropped more than 67 points, or nearly 3%.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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