How the $2 trillion deal came together — and nearly fell apart

How the $2 trillion deal came together — and nearly fell apart

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It was going to cost $1 trillion. Late on March 16, five days after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, Larry Kudlow — the one-time cable news talker turned top economic advisor to President Donald Trump — was in the Senate’s historic Mansfield room, telling a group of senior GOP senators something they didn’t want to hear. The U.S. economy was going to need a lot of help — and fast. Americans faced dire consequences if Congress didn’t act quickly, warned Kudlow, alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. The senators were stunned and dismayed.

Ten days later, the price tag for the Senate’s coronavirus economic rescue package has ballooned to more than $2 trillion, twice what Kudlow initially suggested, making it by far the most expensive spending bill in history. The legislation — which passed the Senate by a unanimous, 96-0 vote late Wednesday and is expected to be easily approved by the House — provides direct payments to millions of individual Americans, dramatically expands unemployment insurance for workers forced out of their jobs by the crisis, and allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to distressed industries, hospitals and small businesses, as well as dozens of other provisions.

Senators in both parties hailed the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, as a major achievement, especially considering the extraordinary circumstances — a largely deserted Capitol, senators huddled in self-quarantine and a country slowly shutting down to save itself from even more suffering. “It’s a proud moment for the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an interview with POLITICO. “We responded to the way the American people are acting among themselves by helping each other and putting whatever past grievances they have behind and trying to work together to get this behind us.” But the process wasn’t always pretty. At one point, the “Big 4” congressional leaders — McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — squabbled with each other during a meeting in McConnell’s office, and there remains resentment among the quartet.(Politico)