A homeless man walks by a closed theater in Los Angeles, on March 21, 2020, as California grapples with its part of the global coronavirus pandemic
Washington (AFP) - A gargantuan package to rescue the reeling US economy was in peril Sunday as Democrats expressed deep concerns that the Republican-led plan fails to sufficiently help millions of American families devastated by the crisis.
Congress and the US government worked furiously to seal the deal on a package that could amount to about $2 trillion, likely the largest such federal intervention in US history.
A separate package being considered by US financial authorities would pump $4 trillion in liquidity – a staggering 20 percent of US GDP – into the teetering economy.
But amid signals that talks on the congressional bill were faltering, the Senate’s top Republican said he wanted the chamber’s warring factions to reach a truce.
“It’s time to move forward. Americans don’t need to see us haggling endlessly,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the chamber.
In a clear sign of Washington infighting, though, McConnell was forced to postpone by three hours a scheduled 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) vote to advance the measure towards final passage on Monday.
Senior Democrats were signalling trouble ahead.
“There is at this time a big difference” in Republican positions and those of Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a note to her caucus Sunday afternoon.
The top Democrat in Congress acknowledged that her members were compiling a separate House bill that focuses more on workers.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, perhaps the key representative of President Donald Trump’s administration in the process, had expressed hope an agreement could be reached Sunday.
As the 100-member Senate struggled to narrow the gap, it was hit with the news Sunday that one of its own, Republican Senator Rand Paul, has tested positive for coronavirus.
A statement on his Twitter feed said he is “feeling fine,” but he is in quarantine and will be unable to take the critical upcoming votes.
Neither will Republican Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, who both said they were in quarantine after exposure to Paul.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer expressed optimism about a deal late Saturday, but by Sunday he was more sober, saying no Democrats has supported the bill as drafted because it had “many, many problems.”
“It included a large corporate bailout provision, with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight,” Schumer told reporters, adding it “significantly cut back” on money for hospitals and medical workers.
Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, warned that the two sides were “miles apart now” because Republicans were too focused on preserving Wall Street instead of the metaphoric Main Street of America’s working class.
Mnuchin meanwhile detailed a separate massive relief plan to support hard-hit businesses.
Columbus Drive is seen empty in downtown Chicago, Illinois, on March 21, 2020
Under one part of that plan a “significant package working with the Federal Reserve will have up to $4 trillion of liquidity that we can use to support the economy,” Mnuchin told “Fox News Sunday.”
Together, the urgent measures represented one of the most dramatic governmental rescue efforts outside wartime, with millions of people thrown out of work, thousands of businesses shuttered, travel severely curtailed and no certainty as to when things might improve.
They also came as the death toll continued to rise – especially in hotspots like New York – and as local and state officials nationwide warned of dire consequences absent more aggressive federal action.
- ‘Worse is yet to come’ -
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was under intense pressure to guide the upper chamber of Congress into agreement on a trillion-dollar rescue package for workers and businesses hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic
“The worse is yet to come,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on CNN, predicting hospitals in the city would face serious shortages of protective equipment within days unless drastic action is taken.
“We expect April will be a lot worse than March and I fear May could be worse than April,” he said.
Mnuchin said the congressional package would provide funds to support hard-pressed hospitals and medical professionals. Democrats have scoffed, saying the proposal falls far short of what’s needed.
Mnuchin also said it would give small businesses enough cash to pay laid-off workers for two weeks, provide direct cash payments to Americans (about $3,000 for a family of four, he said), and enhance unemployment insurance for those laid off.
Democrats have demanded stronger worker protections. Schumer has said he wants the government to pay full wages for four months to workers laid off due to the crisis.