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No deal yet on stimulus as stock market teeters on the edge

Supporters mustered only 47 votes of the 60 required to take up measure

California Sen. Kamala Harris arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday for a vote.
California Sen. Kamala Harris arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday for a vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Negotiations on an economic stimulus measure that had hit about $1.8 trillion by Sunday — and probably climbing — were set to continue Monday morning, top Senate and White House officials said late Sunday night.

“I think we’re very close. The teams are going to work through the night. We’re going to regroup the principals in the morning,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “We’re going to work very hard to get this done tomorrow.”

White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland said administration negotiators would be back up at the Capitol by 9 a.m. to continue talks.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., late Sunday said he’d met with Ueland and Mnuchin six times that day. He said while there are “some serious problems” with the package Senate Republicans circulated late Saturday, he thought a deal could be near.

“We’re getting closer and closer and I’m very hopeful … that we could get a bill in the morning,” Schumer said.

The ongoing impasse raises the odds of steep stock market losses Monday morning, just what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the White House had tried to avoid.

McConnell tried initially to set another procedural vote, after Sunday’s party-line rejection of cloture on the motion to proceed to the underlying legislative vehicle (HR 748), for 9:45 a.m. That was intended for maximum shock value, particularly if the stock market trips its automatic “circuit breaker,” halting trades for 15 minutes, after the 9:30 a.m. open if the S&P 500 drops 7 percent from its previous close.

But Schumer, who had just been meeting with Mnuchin and Ueland, went to the floor and objected. “We are making progress. I think there’s a good chance we’ll have an agreement. But we don’t need artificial deadlines,” Schumer said.

McConnell agreed to move the vote back to noon. “Maybe there will be some miraculous coming together tonight. I hope so. If not, we will now be voting at noon rather than 9:45,” he said off the Senate floor.

McConnell spokesman David Popp said there would be up to three procedural votes at noon. If the first two are adopted, then a cloture vote on the bill itself would occur, with a 60-vote threshold.

“Our nation cannot afford the game of chicken,” McConnell said on the floor late Sunday night, after an intensive day of negotiations on how best to limit the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. “This . . . is a national emergency, not a partisan opportunity.”

Shuttle diplomacy

Mnuchin and Ueland spent the day and night shuffling back and forth between congressional leadership offices in hopes of striking a deal.

But by 6 p.m., supporters mustered only 47 votes of the 60 required to take up the relief package. Plans by Senate GOP leaders for a speedy vote on passage Monday appeared in greater jeopardy. McConnell switched his vote to oppose the measure when it was clear it would be blocked so he could hold another procedural vote at a later time.

“We’re fiddling here, fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care,” a visibly angry McConnell said on the floor after the vote. “The American people expect us to act tomorrow. And I want everybody to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow, it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to bicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem.”

Schumer fired back within minutes, saying McConnell had presented Democrats early Sunday with a “highly partisan bill” drafted only by Republicans. “So who is being partisan?” he asked. But he said, “The bipartisan negotiations continue even as we speak.”

McConnell’s effort to get 60 votes was hampered partly because of the pandemic itself: five GOP members of the Senate were not able to come to the floor because they were self-quarantining after possible exposure to people who’d contracted COVID-19, including Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who tested positive.

Democratic complaints

Republicans insisted they had bipartisan support for a robust relief package offering one-time cash payments to families, loans to small businesses and an expanded social safety net.

The GOP package is designed to prop up the economy for the next 10 to 12 weeks as businesses shutter and workers lose jobs in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Mnuchin said Sunday morning on “Fox News Sunday.”

But if the stimulus measure, which National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said could cost $1.8 trillion, proves insufficient and the virus hasn’t abated, Mnuchin left open the possibility of another round of relief.

“If this lasts longer, we’ll come back again,” he said.

As initially drafted by Senate Republicans, the package includes these key elements:

— Small-business loans worth up to $349 billion overall, capped at $10 million per loan, for use in maintaining payroll, providing paid leave and payments for rent, mortgages, utilities and other obligations; loan amounts used for such costs would be forgiven.

— One-time tax rebates to individuals and families, starting at $1,200 for single filers and rising to $2,400 for joint filers, plus an extra $500 per child. After $75,000 in adjusted gross income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, the credit would be reduced by 5 percent of AGI above those caps. In two key changes from an earlier version (S 3548), lower-income households would get the same credit regardless of tax liability, and rebates would be based on 2019 tax returns if those have been filed.
— Enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for those who lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus, tacking on an extra $600 a week for 12 weeks, as well as an additional 13 weeks of benefits after state unemployment compensation has been exhausted.
— A new credit facility run through the Treasury to back $500 billion in collateralized loans and loan guarantees, with $58 billion set aside for airlines and $17 billion earmarked for sectors considered critical to national security. Derided as a “slush fund” by Democrats, the measure would ban stock buybacks and layoffs for loan recipients but with loopholes for buyback arrangements entered into before enactment, and companies would have to avoid layoffs only “to the extent practicable.”
— A $242 billion supplemental appropriations package, including $75 billion for hospitals, $20 billion for veterans health care, $11 billion for vaccine research, drug treatments and testing, and more. Democrats charged the new spending and other health care provisions in the bill weren’t enough to support the kind of infrastructure needed to contain and treat the virus.

The legislation also includes a two-year limit on executive raises at companies that accept federal money and provides loans instead of grants to airlines — both of which were concerns Sunday morning.

Democrats said Republican leaders were rushing on a package that they said didn’t do enough to help workers and was too generous toward corporate interests.

“Corporate bailout funds without restriction, without oversight, you wouldn’t even know who’s getting the money. Not enough money for hospitals, nurses … all the health care needs,” Schumer said late Sunday. “No money for state and local governments … many of whom would go broke. Many other things. And so we are working hard to make them better and we are making progress.”

In another potential setback for speedy action, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House would offer its own legislative package even as the Senate works to complete its bill.

“We’re so far apart,” Pelosi said after leaving a meeting of top congressional leaders around mid-day. “We’ll be introducing our own bill and hopefully it will be compatible with what they discussed on the Senate side.”

It wasn’t clear by late Sunday whether Pelosi still planned to introduce an alternative bill.

Lindsey McPherson, Paul M. Krawzak, Niels Lesniewski and Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

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