The Senate passed the largest aid package in history Wednesday night, unanimously, with a 96-0 vote. (The four lawmakers who didn’t vote are quarantining because of the coronavirus.)
The last time the U.S. Senate held a vote and got everyone present to vote yes was in February, just before the full brunt of the coronavirus hit, to confirm a federal judge in Puerto Rico who everyone agreed was qualified. Before that was a 93-0 vote on June 4 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
That kind of bipartisan agreement for any actual legislation, let alone something this massive and complicated, is unprecedented in modern Senate history. And it underscores just how fearful lawmakers are of not acting immediately to prop up an economy that has already fallen off a cliff.
As the Senate passed its bill late Wednesday, the federal government was preparing to release jobless numbers Thursday morning that break the charts. A record 3.3. million Americans filed for unemployment last week, about five times what we saw during the Great Recession.
It’s become increasingly clear that these measures can’t stop a recession. Now, it’s all about avoiding a long-term depression, writes The Washington Post’s economic correspondent Heather Long.
Lawmakers’ actions underscore how seriously they’re taking this crisis. But many of them are putting words to their fear, too, in a way that drives home how the coronavirus is more like a world war than any other comparable challenge the United States has faced.
Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has had the herculean task of keeping his disparate Republican Senate majority united to pass coronavirus-aid legislation — not once, but twice — that many of them felt was geared toward Democratic priorities:
“Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
He added: “We pivoted from impeachment to 100 to nothing on this rescue package. This is about as flawless as you could possibly be.”
Here’s Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who worked closely with the White House to make changes to this bill so that Democrats could support it: “The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt. Our country has faced immense challenges before, but rarely so many at the same time.”
Schumer also told Politico: “It’s one of the most major pieces of legislation we’ve done. I guess there are only a few other moments, I suppose. Obamacare. But otherwise you can’t think of something so major since the Great Society, Lyndon Johnson.”
Others, too, were sounding the alarm as Congress tried to overcome significant policy disagreements and general political mistrust of the other side to get this passed.
“These are not normal times,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told ClickOrlando.com on March 17. “The circumstances in which we live in now have no precedent, at least for 70 years, and even there, it’s unique.”
He added to Politico on Wednesday: “What we’re dealing with here is not some ordinary ideological debate during ordinary times or even during an economic downturn. It is a catastrophic collapse of the economy via government fiat.”
President Trump has tried to focus on hope — much of what he says not grounded in reality — rather than acknowledging the magnitude of the dual health and economic crisis playing out before him. But on Wednesday night, even he engaged in a rare moment of bipartisan outreach while reflecting on how Congress came together so quickly to help stop the economic bleeding.
“The Democrats have treated us fairly,” he said. “I really believe that we’ve had a very good back-and-forth. And I say that with respect to Chuck Schumer.”
Congress probably recognizes what economists say: This is going to get worse. We’re at 5.5 percent unemployment after the first full week of this crisis. We could hit 30 percent, predicted James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
It looks like the House will try to pass this package Friday, even though most lawmakers are home, and a growing number are quarantined because of the virus. From there it will go to Trump’s desk, where — despite bashing the bill and some of its Democratic negotiators in tweets a few times — he has said he’ll sign it.