June 06, 2020
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Congress closing in on nearly $2 trillion virus aid package

Andrew Harnik | AP
Andrew Harnik | AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks to reporters Monday outside the Senate chamber after Democrats blocked a coronavirus aid package on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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WASHINGTON — Top congressional and White House officials say they expect to reach a deal Tuesday on a nearly $2 trillion measure aimed at easing the economic damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to the Senate Tuesday for final negotiations after a tumultuous but productive day on Monday. While the two sides have resolved many issues in the sweeping package, some final sticking points remain. A Senate vote could come later in the day. Stocks soared as negotiators signaled a resolution was in sight.

At issue is an unprecedented, massive $2 trillion economic rescue package that would give direct payments to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and a $350 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. A point of contention has been $500 billion for guaranteed loans to larger industries.

The one-time rebates are about $1,200 per person, or $3,000 for a family of four. Hospitals could get up to $200 billion for the expected influx of sick patients, Mnuchin said.

Democrats touted gains for hospitals, additional oversight of the huge industry stabilization fund, and money for cash-strapped states. A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to an unprecedented $300 billion, including a late $25 billion White House request for a flexible disaster response fund.

The sense of optimism extended to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who told CNBC Tuesday morning that “I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours.” Only Monday, Pelosi introduced a massive Democratic measure stuffed with progressive ideas, drawing scorn from Republicans for seeking to take advantage of the crisis.

The long evening of shuttle negotiations came after a long day trying to close the deal. The massive package is a far-reaching effort to prop up the U.S. economy, help American households and bolster the health care system amid the growing crisis.

Tensions had flared Monday as Washington strained to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak after Senate Democrats blocked the Republican-led package from moving forward on Sunday. Congress arguing over the huge rescue package and an impatient Trump musing openly about letting the 15-day shutdown expire next Monday, March 30.

As the U.S. braces for an onslaught of sick Americans, and millions are forced indoors to avert a spike that risks overwhelming hospitals, the most ambitious federal intervention in modern times is testing whether Washington can act swiftly to deal with the pandemic on the home front.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is championing the small-business part of the package negotiated between Republicans and Democrats, gave an angry floor speech on Monday, hitting Democrats for delaying the package while saying the U.S. didn’t have “another minute to delay acting.”

“It’s time to get with the program, time to pass historic relief,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday as he opened the chamber after a nonstop weekend session that failed to produce a deal. “This is a national emergency.”

Trump, who has largely been hands off from the negotiations, weighed in late Monday from the White House briefing room, declaring that Congress should vote “for the Senate bill as written,” dismissing any Democratic proposal.

“It must go quickly,” Trump said. “This is not the time for political agendas.”

E&E News writer Bev Banks and Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Hope Yen, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.


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