Image: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington, as Adm. Karl Leo Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Attorney General William Barr listen. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, Pamplona (Spain), Washington, D.C., April 22 – Montgomery County presently has 286 Chinese Coronavirus cases with 124 full recoveries.
The following map shows the frequency of those cases with greater frequency in darker red:
Senate approves $500B virus aid deal; sends to House
A nearly $500 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. It now goes to the House.
Passage was swift and unanimous, despite opposition from conservative Republicans, and President Donald Trump tweeted his support pledging to sign it into law.
“The Senate is continuing to stand by the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Congress and President Donald Trump reached agreement Tuesday on a nearly $500 billion coronavirus relief bill that would replenish a small business rescue program and provide new funds for hospitals and a virus testing program.
The Senate is poised to quickly pass it in a late afternoon session. It next goes to the House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, were among the few senators in the chamber amid stay-home orders that have shuttered Washington, and the nation.
Two conservative Republicans, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voiced opposition, but they did not halt passage.
Lee said it was “unacceptable” that the full Senate was not present and voting in the pro forma session. Paul echoed that concern as they called Congress back to session.
The agreement was announced by Schumer earlier Tuesday and Trump tweeted his support, saying he’ll sign the bill if passes both chambers. McConnell swung behind it as well.
“I welcome this bipartisan agreement and hope the Senate will quickly pass it,” McConnell said.
As he opened the Senate, he called it a “significant package.”
McConnell will seek to clear the bill through the GOP-held Senate during a Tuesday afternoon session, which would take unanimous agreement among all senators.
A copy of the measure was provided to The Associated Press by a GOP aide.
Schumer said the bill was made “better and broader” after Democrats forced the inclusion of money for hospitals and testing..
Schumer said post-midnight talks among leaders of both parties and top Trump administration officials produced a breakthrough agreement on the package.
Trump said he supports the measure, tweeting, “I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding.”
The president said he was open to including in a subsequent virus aid package fiscal relief for state and local government — which Democrats had wanted for the current bill — along with infrastructure projects.
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.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, told a conference call with reporters that House votes would occur Thursday. He said the House will also vote on a proposal to allow proxy voting during the pandemic, a first for Congress, which has required in-person business essentially since its founding.
The Maryland Democrat insisted that proxy voting is “no substitute” for traditional roll calls. But he also wants to go further by opening committees hearings to remote ways of doing business during the crisis.
“The House must show the American people that we continue to work hard on their behalf,” Hoyer wrote to colleagues.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seeking more information on plans to reopen the House, including an updated schedule, plans for annual Pentagon policy and appropriations measures, and decisions on proxy voting.
But the landmark rules change met with objections from conservative Republicans.
“I don’t support it at all,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., one of a handful of Republicans who showed up for Tuesday’s pro forma session to protest proxy votes. “Congress should be in session.”
The emerging virus aid package — originally designed by Republicans as a $250 billion stopgap to replenish the payroll subsidies for smaller businesses — has grown into the second largest of the four coronavirus response bills so far. Democratic demands have caused the measure to balloon, though Republicans support additions for hospitals and testing.
With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, the administration has been pressing for an immediate replenishment of the paycheck protection program.
Talks have dragged as the Democrats tacked on the health priorities and two sides have quarreled over the design of a nationwide testing regime, among other pieces.
Democrats were rebuffed in a request for another $150 billion in aid to revenue-strapped state governments, but left satisfied that the administration will help deliver such aid in the next aid bill. There’s also pressure to help cities with populations of less than 500,000 that were shut out of the massive $2 trillion relief bill that passed last month.
Schumer said Monday that he had talked to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell and that Powell said the Fed is working to open up the Main Street Lending program to nonprofits and municipal governments.
The emerging accord links the administration’s effort to replenish the small-business fund with Democrats’ demands for more money for hospitals and virus testing. It would provide more than $300 billion for the small-business payroll program, with $60 billion or so set aside — and divided equally — for smaller banks and community lenders that seek to focus on under-banked neighborhoods and rural areas.
Another $60 billion would be available for a small-business loans and grants program delivered through an existing small business disaster aid program, $10 billion of which would come in the form of direct grants.
The government’s Paycheck Protection Program has been swamped by companies applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help. The National Federation of Independent Business, a GOP-friendly organization that advocates for small businesses in Washington, said it had surveyed their members and reported that only 1 in 5 applicants had received money so far.
Controversies have enveloped the program, with many businesses complaining that banks have favored customers with which they already do business. Some businesses that haven’t been much harmed by the pandemic have also received loans, along with a number of publicly traded corporations.
Wuhan virus forces cancellation of iconic events like Oktoberfest
Spain called off the Running of the Bulls in July, the U.S. scrapped the national spelling bee in June and Germany canceled Oktoberfest five months away, making it clear Tuesday that the effort to beat back the coronavirus and return to normal could be a long and dispiriting process.
Amid growing impatience over the shutdowns that have thrown tens of millions out of work, European countries continued to reopen in stages, while in the U.S., one state after another — mostly ones led by Republican governors — began taking steps to get back to business.
Business owners in the U.S. who got the go-ahead weighed whether to reopen, and some hesitated, in a sign that commerce won’t necessarily bounce back right away.
Mark Lebos, owner of Strong Gym in Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms and salons can reopen this week, said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.
“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.
Ronique Holloway, who owns a hair salon in Smyrna, Georgia, said she will wait until late next week, and even then thinks that’s too early. She is nervous about contracting the virus from customers, though she plans to wear a mask and gloves and is looking for sanitary wipes and Lysol.
“I would have waited at least until the end of May, but I’m going back because I don’t have a choice,” she said. “I have to feed my daughter.”
With deaths and infections still rising around the world, the push to reopen has set off warnings from health authorities that the crisis that has killed well over 170,000 people globally — including more than 42,000 in the U.S. — is far from over and that relaxing the stay-at-home orders too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.
The economic damage mounted as oil prices suffered an epic collapse and stocks registered their worst loss in weeks on Wall Street.
With demand for petroleum plummeting because of the economic shutdown and producers running out of room to store crude, the price of a barrel of U.S. oil to be delivered in June plunged 43% to just under $12. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 630 points, or 2.7%.
The crisis hit home at President Donald Trump ’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, which laid off 153 workers, including bartenders, cooks, dishwashers and housekeepers.
In Europe, meanwhile, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Germany began allowing some people back to work, including hairdressers, dentists and construction workers, and some stores were cleared to reopen or will soon get the OK.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government will be watching carefully and will “pull the emergency brake” if necessary.
Spain, among the worst-hit countries, will also begin allowing children out of their homes for brief periods next Monday. Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, the Copenhagen amusement park that inspired Walt Disney, will reopen on May 11.
But in an indication that it will be a long time before life returns to normal, Spain canceled its Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, the more than 400-year-old event made world-famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It was also called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. was canceled. The competition has been held since 1925 and was last scrubbed in 1945, during World War II.
“Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning,” said Paige Kimble, executive director.
Germany called off the centuries-old Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, which draws about 6 million visitors each year. It was previously canceled during the two world wars; during a period of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923; and twice because of cholera outbreaks in the 1800s.
“We agreed that the risk is simply too high,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said.
In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte confirmed that businesses can start reopening on May 4 but dashed any hopes of a full end to the country’s strict lockdown any time soon, saying: ”A decision of that kind would be irresponsible.’’
In the U.S., some states, including Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans this week to begin reopening in stages in the coming days. Sunbathers quickly flocked to the sand after some South Carolina beaches reopened with the governor’s backing.
Political tensions were high.
Some sheriffs in Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin said they won’t enforce stay-at-home orders. Angry protesters demanding the lifting of restrictions marched in North Carolina and Missouri with signs like “Enough is enough.” And Wisconsin Republicans asked the state’s high court to block an extension of the stay-at-home order there.
Governors and local leaders from some states have said that before they can relax the social distancing restrictions, they need help from Washington in expanding testing to help keep the virus in check.
“If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it’s going to affect all of us,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on CNN.