Coronavirus relief bill slows in U.S. Senate, talks continue
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[March 23, 2020]
By Richard Cowan and Alexandra Alper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's
drive to pass a $1-trillion-plus coronavirus response bill remained
stymied late on Sunday, as Democrats held out for more money to help
state and local governments and hospitals, while Republicans urged quick
action to give financial markets a sign of encouragement.
Earlier on Sunday, the Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes in
the 100-member chamber to get the Republican plan over a procedural
hurdle after days of negotiations, with 47 senators voting in favor and
Later on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican,
announced he would hold a repeat vote early on Monday, only to be
blocked by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
In response, McConnell accused Democrats of "reckless behavior" that
could further upset financial markets and delay much-needed aid to
battle the coronavirus outbreak.
But Democrats held their ground with Schumer calling the Republican plan
"a giant, giant corporate bailout fund with no accountability."
Amid the partisan attacks, Schumer said that private negotiations were
making progress. White House legislative liaison Eric Ueland told
reporters a "handful" of disagreements still had to be resolved.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shuttled between the offices of the
Republican leader and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in search
of a deal. At one point, Mnuchin also indicated to reporters that
progress was being made.
The negotiations marked Congress's third effort to blunt the economic
toll of a disease that has killed at least 420 people in the United
States and sickened more than 33,000, leading governors to order nearly
a third of the nation's population to stay at home and putting much
business activity on hold.
Following two successful emergency aid bills, this latest effort
includes financial aid for regular Americans, small businesses and
critically affected industries, including airlines.
Democrats raised objections to the Senate Republicans' bill throughout
the day, with Schumer saying it had "many, many problems" and would
benefit corporate interests at the expense of hospitals, healthcare
workers, cities and states.
The failure of the measure to move forward sent Democrats and
Republicans back to the bargaining table. The speaker of the House of
Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said that Democrats in that chamber will
begin crafting an alternative bill.
Schumer said more money was needed for community health centers, nursing
homes, masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and aid to
state and local governments.
On the Senate floor, a visibly angry McConnell accused Democrats of
"Even if Democrats reverse course tomorrow, the vote they cast today
will almost certainly cause more Americans to lose their jobs and more
seniors hard-earned retirement savings to literally evaporate," he said.
Lawmakers were mindful that a failure to reach a deal on Sunday could
batter already reeling financial markets on Monday.
But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said that would not rush Democrats
into a deal they do not want.
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U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) makes a statement
after meetings to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid
legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in
Washington, U.S., March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
"Markets always come back," he said.
In a sign of the disease's spread, Republican Senator Rand Paul on
Sunday said he had tested positive. Republican Senators Mike Lee and
Mitt Romney said they would self-quarantine as a result.
At a White House briefing on Sunday, President Donald Trump said he
still had hope that a massive aid package could pass Congress
"They are very close to getting a deal done," Trump said. "So I'd be
surprised if they didn't and if they don't, I think frankly the
American people will be very upset with the Democrats because the
Republicans are ready to approve a deal. The only reason a deal
couldn't get done is pure politics."
Vice President Mike Pence said 254,000 Americans have been tested
for the virus and slightly more than 30,000 have tested positive.
Trump said he had activated the National Guard in the three states
hardest hit by the outbreak: California, New York and Washington.
The Senate bill's controversial provisions included those aimed at
helping corporations, rather than workers, as well as those allowing
the government to delay disclosing what firms, states or
municipalities had received aid for up to six months.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic candidate to
challenge Trump in the November U.S. presidential election, blasted
the president's handling of the crisis.
"President Trump neglected, minimized, and lied about this virus,"
Biden said in a statement. "Stop lying and start acting. Use the
full extent of your authorities, now, to ensure that we are
producing all essential goods and delivering them."
Mnuchin told "Fox News Sunday" the package would include loans for
small businesses, direct deposits that could give an average family
of four $3,000, and up to $4 trillion in liquidity for the U.S.
Federal Reserve to help businesses get through the next 90 to 120
A Republican-drafted bill seen by Reuters gives the U.S. Treasury
authority to provide up to $500 billion in loans, loan guarantees
and other investments in eligible businesses, states and
municipalities during the crisis.
Of this, up to $50 billion could provide loans and loan guarantees
for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo air carriers and $17
billion for businesses critical to national security.
The remaining $425 billion would be available for loans, loan
guarantees and other investments for the Fed to provide liquidity to
help the financial system lend to businesses, states and
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Arshad Mohammed and
Andrea Shalal; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and James Oliphant;
Editing by Diane Craft, Stephen Coates and Michael Perry)
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