McConnell: ‘Very close’ on rescue package topping USD1 trillion

WASHINGTON (AP) – Top-level negotiations between Congress and the White House are pushing toward resolution on a ballooning USD1 trillion-plus economic rescue package, as United States (US) President Donald Trump urged a deal to steady a nation shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

With a population on edge and financial markets teetering, all sides indicated late Saturday that a deal is within reach. At issue is how best to keep paychecks flowing for millions of workers abruptly sidelined by the crisis.

Talks also narrowed on a so-called Marshall Plan for hospitals as well as industry loans to airlines and others all but grounded by the virus outbreak and national shutdown. The post-World War II Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Western Europe.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced late Saturday all sides were “very close” to a bipartisan resolution.

McConnell instructed committee chairmen to assemble draft legislation.

Officials put the price tag at nearly USD1.4 trillion and said that with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump USD2 trillion into the US economy.

“We are poised to deliver the significant relief that Americans need with the speed that this crisis demands,” McConnell said.

Reporters ask questions as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

Talks resumed yesterday morning when the top four congressional leaders of both parties conferred privately at the Capitol with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in hopes of striking a final accord. A spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there is “not yet an agreement.” Spokesman Justin Goodman said Democrats look forward to reading the draft and further negotiations.

“Everybody’s working hard and they want to get to a solution that’s the right solution, I think we’re very close,” Trump said at Saturday’s briefing, striking a confident tone about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate convened the rare weekend session as negotiators raced to complete the package. The Senate’s goal was to hold an initial vote yesterday and win Senate passage today.

The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket, businesses shutter and the financial markets are set to re-open today eager for signs that Washington can soften the blow of the healthcare crisis and what experts say is a looming recession.

Trump has largely stayed out of the details, but said last Saturday that he would be lobbying the lead negotiators.

On one topic, Trump appears to be agreeing with Democrats as Washington tries to steer clear of the politically toxic bailouts from the last economic crises.

Trump expressed a clear distaste for any industry, including the airlines, that would use federal assistance to buy back its own stock in an effort to increase profits. Banning stock buy-backs is one of Democrats’ top business priorities in the emerging package.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other top White House officials were on Capitol Hill for a second day of nonstop negotiations. But no announcement was expected.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been in talks with Mnuchin, returned to Washington on Saturday and was scheduled to join Sunday’s meeting.

Negotiations are focussed on providing direct relief to Americans, with one-time checks of USD1,200, as well as ongoing payroll support and enhanced unemployment benefits for the newly out of work.

Talks are also focussed on loans to airlines and other industries blindsided by the crisis, as well as possible aid to the states and billions for hospitals and healthcare providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

The emerging package builds on a GOP proposal but Democrats push for add-ons, including food security aid, small business loans and other measures for workers.

“We’re making very good progress,” Schumer said late Saturday. “We’re going to continue working though the night.”