The US Senate is the focus of negotiations on a massive coronavirus economic support package
Washington (AFP) - US lawmakers closed in on a deal Tuesday to buttress the teetering economy by giving nearly $2 trillion to hospitals, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.
“At this point, of the few outstanding issues, I don’t see any that can’t be overcome in the next few hours,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer told the chamber moments after meeting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The optimism, shared by Republican leaders, is a ray of hope after vicious partisan infighting over how to craft what ultimately may be the largest emergency rescue package lawmakers have ever passed.
The Senate failed on multiple occasions in recent days to advance a massive but controversial Republican-led proposal, and pressure has soared to swiftly reach a compromise that provides relief for hundreds of millions of Americans.
President Donald Trump called for an immediate resolution to the stalemate.
“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” he said on Twitter.
“The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!”
US stocks, which had shed one third of their value since the crisis hit US shores in February, soared Tuesday morning on the prospects of a deal that could send checks to Americans potentially amounting to more than $3,000 for a family-of-four.
Democrats rejected the original Republican package, arguing it put corporations ahead of workers, including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has killed nearly 600 in the US.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a measure aimed at injecting huge federal funding into the pockets of struggling Americans and businesses, but Democrats argued it prioritized corporations over workers
But an agreement appeared within reach after days of intense negotiations between Republicans, Democrats and Trump administration officials.
“We are very close,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told members.
“It’s taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here,” the top Republican added. “I hope today is the day this body will get it done.”
Multiple lawmakers said a final version of the bill was being drafted Tuesday.
- ‘Real optimism’ -
Any relief package that passes the Senate will need to clear the Democratic-led House too before going to the president’s desk.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence it could be done quickly.
“I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” the powerful California Democrat told CNBC.
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has expressed optimism about reaching an agreement in Congress on a trillion-dollar rescue package for millions of American and an economy reeling from the effects of the coronavirus crisis
“I think the Senate Democrats have moved the bill to a place where the leverage is more fairly distributed between employers and workers.”
Crafting a rescue that includes funding larger than one year’s US federal budget for discretionary spending is an extraordinary task in such a short time frame.
McConnell’s opening bid included onetime “recovery rebates” of up to $1,200 for most adults, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loan guarantees to industries hit by the crisis, including airlines, and to small businesses.
Democrats fumed that the measure provided insufficient oversight on corporations receiving the infusions, did not mandate that companies keep their employees on payroll, and needed more aid for hospitals desperate for military equipment like protective gear, intensive care beds and ventilators.
Schumer said the compromise is almost certain to include a guarantee the federal government will pay the salaries of worked sacked or sickened due to the pandemic for four months.
Five of the 100 senators have gone into self-quarantine due to threat of COVID-19 and cannot vote, including Republican Rand Paul, who tested positive for the disease on Sunday.
With the clock ticking, no vote has been scheduled yet in the Senate. But leadership can work with lightning speed provided there is unanimous consent.