Unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill poised for Senate vote

    Unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill poised for Senate vote

The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, departs the Naval Station San Diego and heads to the Port of Los Angeles to aid local medical facilities for patients, on March 23 in San Diego

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of marathon talks.

"We're going to pass this legislation later today," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early on Wednesday.

It was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to Trump to sign into law.

The Senate was due to convene at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), with a vote expected sometime in the afternoon. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

Trump supports the measure, the White House said.

"We're really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

"We have greatly strengthened the bill and we're proud of what we've done," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,650.

The governors of at least 18 states, including hard-hit New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen's spread but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

U.S. stocks were mixed in choppy trading after a strong rebound on Tuesday and a rise in early trading on Wednesday, as optimism about the coronavirus package waned, with investors still concerned about the lasting economic hit from the pandemic.

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We'll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there's no decision about timing until we see the bill," she told reporters.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so.

If just one of the chamber's 430 current members objects, that could require them to return to Washington to vote in person at a time when several members are self-quarantining. Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval — leading to further delays.

Trump said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end "social distancing" restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.