$2 trillion coronavirus aid deal takes shape in U.S. Congress
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats and Republicans in the divided U.S. Congress said on Tuesday they were close to a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package to limit the coronavirus pandemic’s economic toll, but it was unclear when they would be ready to vote on a bill.
“We are very close,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, as the chamber opened its session on Tuesday morning.
The Republican-led chamber’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said on the Senate floor that “of the few outstanding issues I don’t see any that can’t be overcome within the next few hours.”
The $2 trillion package includes a proposed $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount to send direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families, as well as $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $75 billion for hospitals.
It aims to stem the heavy economic impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 660 people in the United States and sickened more than 50,000, 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.
A few issues, such as assistance to states, remained unresolved as of early afternoon, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was unclear when the Senate would be able to vote on the deal.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the sides had agreed to more oversight provisions for the proposed $500 billion to help hard-hit industries, resolving a key sticking point.
The latest version would increase unemployment benefits by up to $600 per week, ensuring that many who lose their jobs would not see a drop in income, according to a Democratic aide. Jobless benefits currently pay workers a fraction of their salaries.
The bill calls for an inspector general and a bipartisan congressional panel to monitor the industrial aid, sources said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would have to tell lawmakers about what companies were tapping the aid, according to the administration official. Companies would face restrictions on stock buybacks and executive pay.
Lawmakers were also nearing an agreement to include $32 billion in grants to passenger and cargo airlines, sources said. They would have to choose between accepting grants or loans but could not receive both.
Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it 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.
Wall Street bounced from three-year lows on Tuesday on hopes the Senate might be close to ending its standoff.
President Donald Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has said he may try to restart the economy more quickly by easing a public-health clampdown that aims to slow the spread of the virus. State officials have warned that step could mean more deaths.