Senate passes $8 billion emergency coronavirus package, sending it to Trump's desk

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
  • The Senate voted Thursday to approve a roughly $US8 billion emergency funding deal to address the coronavirus.
  • It was the latest step in a race to contain an outbreak that has killed nearly a dozen in the US.
  • The quick turnaround of the legislation underscored a sense of urgency in Washington as policymakers scrambled to respond to the respiratory illness COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Senate voted to approve a roughly $US8 billion emergency funding deal to address the coronavirus on Thursday, the latest step in a race to contain an outbreak that has killed nearly a dozen in the US.

The House approved the sweeping bill 415-2 just a day before, underscoring a sense of urgency in Washington as policymakers scrambled to respond to the respiratory illness COVID-19. The Centres for Disease Control warned last week the outbreak would almost certainly spread throughout communities in the US.

“This is a public health challenge that is upon us,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We need to support the federal, state and local public health officials and healthcare professionals who are working overtime to blunt, delay and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the week. The overwhelming passage in the upper chamber came after several days of negotiations and partisan spats over vaccine pricing, access to virtual healthcare and other issues.

“As we confront this widening crisis, it is important to remember that we are not Republicans or Democrats seeking to score political points in addressing this threat. We are Americans,” said Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill includes more than $US3 billion for the research and development of vaccines and diagnostics, roughly $US2.2 billion to fund public health programs, and $US1 billion for medical supplies and other preparedness measures. The legislation also offers low-interest Small Business Administration loans for companies that have struggled in the face of the virus.

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The State Department is separately set to receive $US1.25 billion toward efforts to contain the outbreak abroad, despite a longshot amendment from Senator Rand Paul to cut certain international expenditures.

“I support our government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus,” the Kentucky Republican, a longtime deficit hawk who has pushed for similar appropriations amendments before, said in a statement. “We also owe it to the American people to do it in a way that avoids piling billions more in debt on their backs.”

The so-called supplemental is more than triple the size of the one requested by the White House last week, which sparked opposition on both sides of the aisle. Trump quickly changed course and signalled he would accept far more than the $US2.5 billion package his administration requested, which would have diverted about $US1.25 billion from other federal programs.

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