Senate talks to resume, hopes high massive coronavirus bill will pass

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[March 24, 2020]  By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate could pass a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package as soon as Tuesday, negotiators said, insisting they had made significant progress despite failing so far to reach a bipartisan deal on the sweeping legislation.

Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump's treasury secretary, said he would return to the Capitol for more talks on Tuesday, after a day of negotiations ended at midnight without an agreement.

Neither Mnuchin nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer would provide details, but both were optimistic. "That's the expectation, that we will finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow," Schumer told reporters.

Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides had negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Republican-majority Senate and Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

To become law, the measure must be signed by Trump. Mnuchin said he spoke to the president at least 10 times during the marathon negotiating session on Monday.

Democrats twice blocked attempts to advance a Republican version of the bill as negotiations on a bipartisan measure continued.

Democrats said the Republican plan did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people - nearly a third of the nation's population - to stay at home.

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White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walk to a meeting during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was consulted in the talks, introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal to the Republican plan as the negotiations continued.

It was not clear early on Tuesday whether Pelosi supported the bipartisan plan in the works in the Senate.

Trump's administration has launched a major push for action to blunt the economic impact - and steep stock market decline - from the pandemic, after Trump spent weeks dismissing the risks.

While details of the emerging bipartisan bill were not available, it is expected to provide financial aid for Americans out of work because of the virus and help for struggling industries such as airlines.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus has trimmed their ranks, giving Democrats even more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Gerry Doyle)

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