Although he is unable to vote on it, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, praised the U.S. Senate on Wednesday for reaching an agreement on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that Romney said would benefit Utahns and help the state and national economies rebound.

Early Wednesday morning, Senate leadership announced a deal reached with the White House that includes direct payments to middle-class workers, extended unemployment benefits and loans for impacted businesses.

The agreement, if passed, would be the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern U.S. history.

“In effect, this is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats had previously blocked the stimulus package from passing over concerns about what sort of oversight and accountability there would be over loans for large businesses.

Democrats negotiated with Republican leadership to add a provision to the package prohibiting loans from going to businesses owned by President Donald Trump or members of Congress or the Senate.

“After five days of arduous negotiations, after sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiating sessions, we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity.”

During a video press conference on Wednesday, Romney said $500 billion in funds intended to help middle- and large-scale companies would be provided through market-rate loans that companies would be required to pay back.

The Republican senator said that a special inspector general position and oversight committee would be established “to make sure that these enterprises are abiding by the legislation and the terms that have been established by Congress.”

Despite being under self-quarantine since Sunday after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tested positive for COVID-19, Romney said he contributed to conversations about the emergency relief bill before leaving Washington, D.C., adding that he served on a task force that focused on payments to individuals and unemployment insurance, as well as the committee that put together a relief plan for small businesses.

“So I was able to get my input (in) on those elements from the very beginning,” Romney said. “And the final bill has included those elements exactly as we negotiated them.”

If the stimulus package passes, Americans making less than $75,000 a year would receive a check of $1,200 while couples earning less than $150,000 a year would receive a $2,400 check. Families would get an additional $500 for every child in the household.

According to Romney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to get checks shipped or deposited to Americans within two weeks.

“I hope he’s right,” said Romney, adding that it could be longer and is difficult to predict since the coronavirus pandemic is “unlike anything any of us have ever seen during our lifetimes.”

The stimulus package would allot $130 billion for hospitals and health centers throughout the country, as well as $350 billion for small business loans.

Additionally, the package includes an expansion of every state’s unemployment insurance programs and salary remuneration for laid-off employees, which Schumer described as “unemployment compensation on steroids.”

The Senate was expected to vote on the stimulus package on Wednesday afternoon. Politico reported that a handful of GOP lawmakers threw up a “last-minute hurdle” over concerns that the revamped unemployment benefits would encourage employees to be fired or laid off.

“So it would create an adverse incentive for someone to try and get fired so they can make more money on unemployment insurance than they can make at work,” Romney said, adding that he shared the concerns of his Republican colleagues. “Clearly that’s not a good idea.”

The Senate had not voted on the stimulus package as of 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

When asked about how he is dealing with self-isolation, Romney said it had little effect on his day-to-day schedule.

“I must admit, it’s pretty much like a normal workday for me, except I’m at home instead of in the office,” said Romney. The most difficult part, he said, has been being isolated from his family.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Romney spoke highly of the three-phase economic recovery plan for Utah unveiled by Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday, which included a call for a special legislative session.

“The state has put together the most comprehensive and effective plan I have seen anywhere for dealing with the implications of this coronavirus,” Romney said. “It’s really a very solid state plan.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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