WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a mammoth $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented response amid record new jobless claims and mounting evidence that the economy is in a recession.
The unanimous Senate vote late Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.
Thursday brought grim economic news as the government reported 3.3 million new weekly unemployment claims, four times the previous record, fresh evidence that the U.S. is sinking into recession as coronavirus isolation steps have led to business closures.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a televised interview that the economy "may well be in a recession."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it "takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people."
The measure is set for House passage today and President Donald Trump's immediate signature.
The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.
"Pray for one another, for all of our families and for our country," said McConnell, R-Ky.
"The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The package is intended as relief for a sinking economy and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed more than 21,000 people worldwide.
Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House's best guess.
Six days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress' top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure was not an option.
Businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials, including Trump and his immediate family members, would be ineligible for the bill's business assistance.