The Senate just approved a roughly $480 billion relief package that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus outbreak along with other priorities like money for hospitals and expanded Covid-19 testing.
The measure passed by voice vote, a move that gave lawmakers the opportunity to approve the deal without most senators needing to return to Washington, DC, during the pandemic.
After the Senate convened at 4 p.m. and ahead of the vote, a handful of senators, Republicans and Democrats, spoke on the floor to debate the deal. Republican Sen. Rand Paul criticized the deal.
“I rise in opposition to spending $500 billion more. The virus bailouts have already cost over $2 trillion. Our annual deficit this year will approach $4 trillion. We can’t continue on this course. No amount of bailout dollars will stimulate an economy that is being strangled by quarantine. It is not a lack of money that plagues us, but a lack of commerce. This economic calamity only resolves when we begin to re-open the economy," he said.
Paul said that he understands that it would have been hard for many senators to return during a pandemic and for that reason he did “not invoke the Senate rules to demand a recorded vote,” but added, “I did return today though so that history would record that not everyone gave in to the massive debt Congress is creating.”
Republican Sen. Mike Lee was critical of the process for passing the bill, arguing that if Congress is going to legislate during the pandemic, members should return to Washington.
“This is not acceptable, we should not be passing major legislation … without Congress actually being in session, without members actually being here to discuss, amend, and consider legislation,” he said.
The total price tag of the bill is approximately $484 billion. It will authorize the Paycheck Protection Program to spend an additional $310 billion. The deal appropriates roughly $320 billion in total for the program.
The program was set up to deliver aid to small businesses struggling from the economic deep freeze triggered by the pandemic. Funding for the program ran dry earlier this month, prompting concern and outcry from the small business community. The deal will also provide $75 billion for hospitals and health care providers stretched thin by the pandemic to address coronavirus expenses and lost revenue and an additional $25 billion to facilitate and expand Covid-19 testing.
It will next need to be passed by the House before it can go to the President’s desk. Trump tweeted in support of the deal earlier in the day, indicating that he will sign it.