Senate passes paid leave relief bill

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a $100 billion coronavirus aid package into law which includes provisions for emergency paid leave for workers as well as free testing.

The Senate passed a bill earlier in the day to expand paid leave and unemployment benefits in response to the coronavirus pandemic, part of a staggering response expected in the coming weeks to avoid economic calamity.

The chamber approved the bipartisan plan in a 90-8 vote. Two senators — Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rick Scott of Florida — did not vote while in self-quarantine after exposure to people who tested positive for the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.

Some GOP lawmakers opposed the bill, arguing it could harm small businesses. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he would vote for the plan despite what he called “real shortcomings.” With the urgent need to take action, “I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” he said. 

On Tuesday, McConnell advised GOP senators to “gag and vote for it anyway,” saying Congress needed to rise above “our normal partisanship.” 

The Senate voted on the legislation later than it originally hoped because Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., forced a vote on an amendment that ultimately failed. It voted on three amendments, all of which failed. 

The House bill that the Senate considered provides enhanced unemployment insurance, ensures that businesses that have fewer than 500 employees offer two weeks of paid sick leave to their workers, and includes increased funding for food assistance programs and guarantees free testing for the coronavirus. 

The bill faced opposition from Republican lawmakers in the House, who insisted on technical corrections to the bill. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas was the prime Republican who held the bill up earlier this week. The revised legislation made changes that could limit the number of people who could get up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Dozens of other Republicans lawmakers voted against the original bill, which had President Donald Trump’s backing and received overwhelming support from House Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi crafted it with Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. 

Congress and the White House aim to pass another, more sprawling stimulus package to try to stop economic disaster. Republicans and Democrats have differing views on what a plan should contain. 

The Trump administration seeks an $850 billion to $1 trillion stimulus measure, which could include direct payments to Americans, tax cuts or relief to suffering industries.

McConnell said Wednesday that he would “not adjourn the Senate until we pass a far bolder package which must include significant relief for small businesses all across our country.”

In a statement cheering the Senate’s approval of the House-passed plan, Pelosi said Congress is “already hard at work on the third bill” which “will take bold, historic action on behalf of America’s workers and families.”

Senators even had to take precautions while voting Wednesday. McConnell told senators to “avoid congregating here in the well” on the Senate floor, encouraging them to “vote and depart the chamber.” Senators often stand and chat on the floor during votes. 

During the series of votes on the bill and amendments to it, many lawmakers simply walked into the chamber, gave a thumbs up or thumbs down signal and walked out of the room. Even so, some senators huddled in groups to talk for short periods of time.

The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to dozens of countries globally, with more than 212,000 cases worldwide and at least 8,727 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There are at least 7,324 cases in the United States and at least 115 deaths, according to the latest tallies from John Hopkins University.

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