Lawmakers Near $2 Trillion Stimulus Deal for Coronavirus Relief

WASHINGTON (CN) — Lawmakers expressed confidence Tuesday that a deal is near on a roughly $2 trillion economic package to respond to the coronavirus, though the final details and text of any bill remained unfinished late into the night.

Senate Republicans first unveiled the package last week, but the proposal has grown and changed during negotiations between Senate Republicans, the White House and congressional Democrats.

Though specific numbers and details remain somewhat fluid, at the center of the bill is a program giving $1,200 checks to most U.S. adults and $500 to children, as well as at least $350 billion in forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain payroll during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The package is also expected to set aside some $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees for certain industries hit hardest by the outbreak, including $50 billion for commercial airlines.

A sign along Interstate 5 in California urges people to stay at home due to the Covid-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The latest plan reportedly does away with the minimum income threshold for people to qualify for the direct payments, but still gradually phases out starting with people making $75,000 or $150,000 for married couples.

The small business loans would become grants if businesses use the money to maintain payroll and otherwise maintain operations during a time when most businesses are struggling to bring in money due to state mandated shutdowns and closures.

The sweeping bill also expands unemployment insurance benefits, boosts funding to hospitals and provides more money for vaccine development.

Senate Republicans worked out the initial proposal within the caucus and began talks with Democrats on specific provisions over the weekend.

Senate Democrats then blocked two procedural votes on Sunday and Monday as they objected to certain provisions in the bill. Chief among their complaints was a lack of oversight to keep account of where the money in the $500 billion loan package goes.

In an interview on CNBC on Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the Senate had agreed to increased oversight for the loan package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office did not respond to a request seeking confirmation of Pelosi’s statement.

Democrats also sought more conditions on companies receiving loans under the legislation and more funding for hospitals amid the crisis.

Even as Tuesday night came without an agreement announced, senators expressed confidence throughout the day that a deal was near. A day after saying the legislation was on the “five yard line,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said just before noon on Tuesday that talks had moved the ball to the two and that none of the outstanding issues were ones that could not be resolved.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said a deal was close in remarks opening the Senate Tuesday morning, but placed the proverbial ball at the five. McConnell has set up yet another procedural vote on the legislation for Wednesday afternoon.

In a floor speech, Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also said he was confident a deal was near.

“Right now, we are also close to expressing our understanding of the sacrifices of the American people, and doing it in more than words,” Leahy said in a floor speech Tuesday. “I believe we are very close to reaching a bipartisan agreement that will provide direct and immediate relief to working people and families in our country.”

Republicans have criticized Democrats as holding up critical legislation in order to press for long-desired policy goals. Those calls grew louder after House Democrats unveiled a larger plan that included a mandate that airlines slash carbon emissions in half by 2050 as a condition of receiving money and placed board diversity requirements on large companies receiving money from the stimulus proposal.

A frustrated Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to President Donald Trump, urged the White House to cut off further talks with Democrats and have the Senate vote on the package as is, saying more negotiations were just an opportunity for special interest groups to grab their own piece of the bill.

“If you’re at home and you’re a nurse or you’re a doctor and you’re running out of supplies, there’s a lot of money in this bill that will help you, we just need to pass the damn bill,” Graham said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. “What’s going on here? Endless negotiations. Mr. President, in case you’re watching, tell [Treasury Secretary] Steven Mnuchin to come back to the White House and end negotiations.”

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