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Senate approves $483B virus aid deal

ap photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks with reporters alongside Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. after the Senate approved a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid bill Tuesday Capitol Hill in Washington.

WASHINGTON — A $483 billion coronavirus aid package flew through the Senate on Tuesday after Congress and the White House reached a deal to replenish a small-business payroll fund and provided new money for hospitals and testing.

Passage was swift and unanimous, despite opposition from conservative Republicans. President Donald Trump tweeted his support, pledging to sign it into law. It now goes to the House, with votes set for Thursday.

“I urge the House to pass the bill,” Trump said at the White House.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations and deadlock, Congress and the White House reached agreement Tuesday on the nearly $500 billion package — the fourth as Washington strains to respond to the health and economic crisis.

“The Senate is continuing to stand by the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to an almost empty chamber.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill was made “better and broader” after Democrats forced the inclusion of money for hospitals and testing.

A copy of the measure was provided to The Associated Press by a GOP aide.

Most of the funding, $331 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that ran out of money last week. An additional $75 billion would be given to hospitals, and $25 billion would be spent to boost testing for the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state economies.

Missing from the package, however, was extra funding for state and local governments staring down budget holes and desperate to avert furloughs and layoffs of workers needed to keep cities running.

Trump said he was open to including in a subsequent virus aid package fiscal relief for state and local government — which Democrats wanted for the current bill — along with infrastructure projects.

Not all Republicans are backing Trump on the deal.

Two conservative Republicans, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voiced opposition during Tuesday’s session but did not halt passage.

Lee said it was “unacceptable” that the full Senate was not present and voting in the pro forma session as Congress shuttered during the virus outbreak.

Paul said no amount of federal funding will be able to salvage a shuttered economy. “Deaths from infectious disease will continue, but we cannot continue to indefinitely quarantine,” said Paul, who tested positive for the virus last month but has since recovered.

The House is being called to Washington for a Thursday vote, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader.

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