WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the divided U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the pandemic’s economic fallout.
FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
“We are very close,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, as the chamber opened its session on Tuesday morning.
The Republican-led chamber’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said a few hours later that talks had been “very productive.”
“At this point, of the few outstanding issues I don’t see any that can’t be overcome within the next few hours,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the two sides had agreed to more oversight provisions for a proposed $500 billion fund to help hard-hit businesses, resolving a key sticking point.
Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, told reporters in the morning that lawmakers hope to have a draft ready within the next two to three hours. He confirmed the changes to the industrial fund.
“There’s better oversight,” Mnuchin said.
Along with the industrial aid, the bill would send direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families at a cost of $500 billion. It also would provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $75 billion for hospitals.
Schumer said Democrats had secured more robust unemployment aid that would pay idled workers their full salaries for up to four months. Jobless benefits typically only cover a portion of lost wages.
Lawmakers were also nearing an agreement to include $32 billion in grants to passenger and cargo airlines, sources said.
Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.
Wall Street bounced from three-year lows on Tuesday on hopes that the Senate might be close to ending its standoff on the legislation. [nL4N2BH4J3]
Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has said he may ease a public-health clampdown that aims to slow the spread of the virus in an effort to quickly restart the economy. State officials warned that such an action could compound the damage.
‘ALL OF THE NONSENSE’
Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides have negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Senate and the Democratic-led House and signed by the Republican president.
Pelosi said on MSNBC that the House could unanimously pass the legislation once it clears the Senate, but might also try to change it – which would lead to futher delays and possibly require the chamber’s 428 lawmakers to return to Washington.
“We have some additions that we think would be very helpful to America’s workers,” she said on MSNBC.
The money at stake in the stimulus legislation amounts to more than what the U.S. government spends on national defense, scientific research, highway construction and other discretionary programs.
“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 580 people in the United States and sickened more than 46,160, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people – nearly a third of the nation’s population – to stay at home. [nL1N2BH0CO]
Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal that also includes $4 billion that would allow states to conduct the November presidential and congressional elections by mail.
That legislation would likely be irrelevant if a bipartisan deal is forged in the Senate.
Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.
But the coronavirus has affected their ranks, giving Democrats more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for the coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis