Bipartisan U.S. talks expected on rescue for coronavirus-hit economy

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[March 20, 2020]  By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. senators from both parties were expected to meet on Friday along with Trump administration officials to try to devise a rescue plan for an economy reeling from the coronavirus, after Republicans made a $1 trillion opening bid.

The massive Republican package unveiled on Thursday includes checks of up to $1,200 for many Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for small businesses and industries. It also would allow Americans a breather on filing their income taxes until July. They are normally due in April.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the package after talks with the White House and his fellow Republicans. He then invited Democrats to join them in negotiations on Friday, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

McConnell vowed the Senate would not adjourn until it had taken action and sent a measure to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but any vote was probably days away.

Democrats said they were ready to talk, but were also wary, noting they had not been involved in drafting the plan.

"To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives and laying off workers," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement with his fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the chamber's Appropriations Committee, issued a harsh statement on Thursday evening, calling the Republican plan a non-starter. "The McConnell/Trump Republican proposal puts the interests of corporations over workers and American families," he said.

"This proposal contains no funding for first responders, child care, schools, help for the homeless, or veterans medical care, to name a few," Leahy said.


The package is the third taken up by Congress since the coronavirus erupted in the United States. The highly contagious respiratory disease had infected 12,259 people in the country and killed 200 as of Thursday night. It has shut schools, businesses and wide swaths of American life, and sent the stock market into a tailspin.

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Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) walks down a hallway ahead of a Senate luncheon meeting on response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Congress passed an $8.3 billion measure earlier this month to combat the coronavirus outbreak and develop vaccines.

On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed a $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending.

A key plank in the latest measure is direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals earning up to $75,000 annually, a Senate Finance Committee statement said. Students would be allowed to defer payments on student loans.

The bill also includes $300 billion for small businesses, and $208 billion in loans for distressed industries, including $50 billion for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo air carriers.

"We are not bailing out the airlines or other industries - period," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, told reporters. Instead the government would guarantee collateralized loans to industries hurt by the outbreak, he said.

But Shelby and some other Republicans were not fans of the proposal to send direct payments to individuals.

Leaders in the House were trying to work out new voting procedures that would allow them to reconvene without endangering members after two members tested positive for the virus and a number of others decided to self-quarantine.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammed Zargahm; Writing by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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