Negotiators signal deal on stimulus plan that could pass Congress

Coronavirus

(CNN) — Top negotiators signaled on Tuesday that a bipartisan deal on a massive stimulus package to respond to the coronavirus crisis is imminent with all signs pointing to an agreement being locked in and approved by both chambers of Congress later in the day.

Leaders in Congress and the Trump administration have been working for days to pass as quickly as possible a roughly $2 trillion economic stimulus package, which would include direct payments to taxpayers among hundreds of billions of dollars in other stimulus measures. However, objections from Democrats over accountability and process have prevented the legislation from advancing. But signs from leaders in both parties over the past several hours suggest that those differences are either addressed or very close to being settled — and that a final deal could move swiftly through Congress.

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In an indication that a deal is nearly at hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday morning, “We are very close. We are close to a bill that takes our bold Republican framework, integrates further ideas from both parties and delivers huge progress.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi similarly signaled a deal would be finalized in the coming hours, saying on Tuesday morning “there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” as last-minute negotiations continue.

“I think we’re getting to a good place, if they stay there,” Pelosi said in an interview on CNBC.

Pelosi suggested she is hoping to avoid bringing the full House back to Washington to vote on the package, seeking to pass it through unanimous consent instead, which could allow for a vote as early as Tuesday if negotiators finalize the bill in time.

Unanimous consent is commonly used for uncontroversial measures, not for packages of such magnitude as the coronavirus stimulus, in part because any one member can block a unanimous consent request.

But in recent weeks, a group of members have pushed against the idea of returning to the Capitol, where they fear they will contribute to the spread of the virus.

“My goal always has been to bring this bill to the floor under unanimous consent, where we’re all in agreement,” said Pelosi.

Signs of a breakthrough come after days of drawn out and intense negotiations between congressional Republicans, Democrats and the Trump administration.

In a move that could resolve another sticking point, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been negotiating the deal, has agreed to an inspector general and congressional overnight for a $500 billion fund proposed for distressed companies, a senior White House official told CNN.

Senate Republicans initially crafted a proposal within their own conference and only later took the proposal to Democrats to negotiate, a decision that led to Democratic objections that they had been cut out of the process from the outset in a way that would slow down talks and delay a deal.

The deal aims to provide relief for Americans as well as industries hard hit by the economic fallout from the spread of coronavirus. Democrats, however, have raised concerns throughout negotiations that Republicans were working to prioritize aid to industry over workers and have called for more oversight safeguards as part of the deal.

Those concerns came to a head when Senate Democrats blocked two procedural votes to move ahead with a stimulus package — on Sunday and again on Monday — moves that ratcheted up tensions in the Capitol as Republicans argued that Democrats were obstructing progress toward a deal.

Now, however, it looks like both sides might be able to claim victory in the final deal.

Pelosi said on CNBC on Tuesday, “We think the bill has moved sufficiently to the side of workers.”

She said that she believes the Senate bill will incorporate House Democrats’ language on oversight for some of the funds in the package, and that the new version has also boosted resources for state and local governments. “We wanted a strong infusion of resources for state and local governments because they are taking a big bit of this apple,” she said.

Pelosi elaborated further on provisions of the package that Democrats support in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on “Inside Politics.”

“The fact that they now have assistance for state and local government was a big concern for us and that is — my understanding — is now in the bill. Unemployment insurance was almost right from the start agreed that we would have it, but the scope of it was enlarged and we are very pleased with where it is,” Pelosi said.

“Many of the provisions in there have been greatly improved because of negotiation,” she said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that the legislation will have “unemployment insurance on steroids.”

“This is a great plan. What it says is if you lose your job in this crisis you can be furloughed by your employer. That means you stay on that employers work list, if you have health benefits with the employer you can keep getting them, but most importantly the federal government will pay your salary — your full salary — for now four months. We had asked for four months and four months looks like what we’re going to get when we come to this agreement,” he said.

Negotiators are now urging quick action.

“The clock has run out. The buzzer is sounding. The hour for bargaining as though this was business as usual has expired,” McConnell said. “The American people need our Democratic friends to take yes for an answer. Now I hope that will happen today.”

Key Senate GOP negotiators on the economic stimulus bill were summoned earlier Tuesday to “get a full update” about the emerging agreement, according to Sen. Marco Rubio.

“My understanding from the other negotiators is they are all feeling good about how it’s turning out. The most important thing is that we do something today,” said Rubio, who chairs the Small Business Committee and played a key role shaping the small business components of the bill.

“Today has to be the day we to deliver something. We really do. The country can’t afford another day like yesterday this meeting to close the deal.”

An aide to another participant said the briefing was called by McConnell.

Asked if this meeting was called to close the deal, Rubio replied: “They haven’t told us that but I don’t know why else we would be meeting.”

Congresswoman Kendra Horn released the following statement:

“We don’t have time for partisan games,” said Congresswoman Horn. “Our nation needs an immediate, targeted stimulus package that will keep Americans employed, keep businesses afloat, and protect our communities from the continued spread of COVID-19. This is not the time for either party to score political points with provisions that get us nowhere. This is a moment when we must find common ground and do what is in the best interest of the American people. During negotiations, I am focused on bringing Members of both parties together on provisions that will deliver direct support for workers, businesses, and families in need. Last week, as a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, we laid out clear priorities for the next stimulus package, including an economic response for individuals and businesses, health and food assistance, and infrastructure investment. Our work is too important to let partisan politics get in the way. I urge both parties to stop playing games and work together to pass a bipartisan stimulus package that delivers help to the American people now.”

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