US Congress, negotiators reach deal on $2-trillion coronavirus aid package

Steven Mnuchin leaving Chuck Schumer's office

USA lawmakers closed in on a deal Tuesday to buttress the teetering economy by giving almost $2 trillion to hospitals, businesses and ordinary Americans buckling under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

"At last, we have a deal", Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, citing the massive "wartime level of investment into our nation".

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 the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

If a deal is reached, a Senate vote on the deal could occur quickly with the House potentially following soon after.

The legislation could be back on the table for a procedural vote as soon as Tuesday, Texas Senator John Cornyn said.

"We're in the red zone and hopefully we can get it over the finish line", the powerful California Democrat told CNN.

He took aim at Senate Democrats for attempting to include their policy preferences, such as same-day voter registration, early voting, and diversity initiatives in their version of the stimulus package.

In a town hall on Fox News on Tuesday, President Trump said it was important to bail out companies that had been ordered to shut down. She said she hopes the House could approve the bill under unanimous consent, but if that's not possible, they can call members back to amend the Senate bill or pass their own proposal and go to conference to hammer out a final bill. "It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here", he said.

"At this point, of the few outstanding issues, I don't see any that can't be overcome in the next few hours", top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer told the chamber moments after meeting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. A companion appropriations package ballooned as well, growing from a $46 billion White House proposal to more than $300 billion, which dwarfs earlier disasters - including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.

But late Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was "very, very close" to an agreement with the White House.

Trump in recent days has sounded a note of frustration about the unprecedented modern-day effort to halt the virus' march by essentially shutting down public activities in ways that now threaten the US economy.

"This structure is a good structure", said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the president of the American Action Forum. The 15-day period of White House guidelines to enforce physical distancing and other measures began on 16 March. His suggestion that the pandemic could ease and allow a return to normalcy in a mere few weeks is not supported by public health officials or many others in government. The money also would be used for medical supply shortages-hospital beds, ventilators, personnel-particularly at rural and small facilities.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.



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