Principals negotiating a $2 trillion economic rescue package for a nation on virtual lockdown from COVID-19 reported substantial progress late Monday with a deal potentially on Tuesday morning and votes later in the day.
“We expect to have an agreement tomorrow morning,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said just before midnight after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland. “That’s the expectation, that we will finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow in the evening.”
“There are still a few little differences. Neither of us think they’re in any way going to get in the way of a final agreement,” Schumer added. He said two of his caucus’ priorities — “workers first and a ‘Marshall Plan’ for hospitals” — were “very strongly in the bill.”
Mnuchin echoed Schumer’s assessment as he left the Capitol. “There’s still a couple of open issues, but I think we’re very hopeful that this can be closed out tomorrow,” he said, adding that he and Ueland expect to be back on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. for more talks.
Ueland said “there are not that many” differences remaining between the parties. “As we continue to work the policies and the paper tonight, we’ll be in position to be able to explain to senators and interested individuals where we are, where we’re going, how we’re going to finish,” he said.
Neither side would comment on remaining obstacles.
Mnuchin said he’d spoken with President Donald Trump at least 10 times Monday about the evolving package, and he said the president is on board with the direction things are headed. “The president would like to have a deal and is hopeful we can conclude this tomorrow,” he said.
Mnuchin and Schumer said one of those calls with Trump occurred during their final meeting of the evening. “Secretary Mnuchin called the president. He told them we were very close to an agreement. He seemed very happy with it,” Schumer said. “They all wanted to try to get it done tomorrow and I think the American people want to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Earlier, Mnuchin and Ueland left Schumer’s office around 10:30 p.m. with one of the New York Democrat’s top policy aides and headed back to the administration officials’ temporary office at the Capitol. “We’ve kidnapped one of Sen. Schumer’s most important people on his team. We are taking him to our office to go through documents,” Mnuchin said.
The good vibes extended to rank-and-file Democrats waiting for signals from leadership. “I think tonight, at 10:30, we are getting close to a product that achieves those goals,” Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut said on MSNBC, highlighting funding for hospitals and other health care providers.
The package, whenever finalized, was sure to offer cash payments to families, loans to business and an expanded social safety net designed to help weather the job losses and economic decline triggered by the pandemic.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier Monday announced there would be no floor votes Monday night, as he filed another procedural motion to take up the package at a later time. “As you know, the talks continue no matter where people are physically located,” he told reporters before leaving the Capitol.
Up to that point, lawmakers appeared to have made some headway in negotiations. In one bipartisan compromise, lawmakers agreed to provide expanded unemployment insurance benefits adding $600 a week for four months, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., An initial Republican proposal offered only three months and Democrats sought six months, he said.
Republicans also appeared to be bending toward Democratic demands for increased funding for hospitals and state and local governments, although it wasn’t clear that a firm deal had been reached. “I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made on behalf of the president to support the work that hospitals are doing out in every community across the United States,” Ueland said.
One key sticking point has been a $500 billion fund designed to offer loans to struggling industries. Democrats have attacked the proposal as a “slush fund” that would dole out money to large corporations without adequate oversight, transparency and safeguards against corruption.
While the current bill would limit executive compensation and stock buybacks as a condition for new loans, Democrats said those conditions come with too many loopholes. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said Monday he would be willing to accept more restrictions on corporations, and that he wasn’t alone among Republicans.
“Whatever you want to do to hold the big companies accountable, with transparency, I’m a Main Street guy and I’m OK with that,” Braun said. He said he would support stronger protections against stock buybacks, more immediate disclosure of loan recipients, restrictions on employers’ ability to fire workers at a later time, and lengthier restrictions on executive compensation.
Also unresolved was a dispute over whether aid to airlines should be limited to loans that get paid back or include direct grants. The airline industry has pushed for about half of the proposed $58 billion in aid to come in the form of grants, which it said is needed to avoid mass layoffs as the pandemic grounds many travelers.
Upping the ante
The slow pace of talks prompted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to introduce her own economic package Monday that could raise the overall price tag to as much as $2.5 trillion. But it wasn’t yet clear whether House leaders would pursue that legislation if the Senate locks down a bipartisan deal that gets passed in the coming days.
And as negotiations dragged on, each party accused the other of trying to incorporate provisions that had nothing to do with combating the coronavirus.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., faulted Democrats for trying to push proposals to forgive the U.S. Postal Service’s $11 billion debt to Treasury, cancel $10,000 in student loan debt per debtor, expand early voting requirements and reduce airline carbon emissions.
He also pointed to a proposed expansion of a provision in the fiscal 2020 spending law that allowed up to 20 privately held newspapers to cut back on their pension plan contributions.
“It almost sank the retirement reform bill last year and here it is again in a bill designed to stop the pandemic,” Cotton fumed. “Are you kidding me?”
Braun cited provisions backed by Democrats to require companies receiving assistance to pay workers a $15 per hour minimum wage.
The newspaper, minimum wage and other provisions Republicans cited were in earlier iterations of Pelosi’s draft bill, which was released formally Monday night.
One section that had been considered for inclusion and showed up in bracketed form in earlier texts didn’t end up in Pelosi’s final bill. That’s a proposal to give every adult $2,000, and $1,000 to every child under age 18, each month during the crisis for individuals earning less than $115,000 and joint filers making less than $230,000.
House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., introduced that measure along with several others, such as temporary debt relief for car loans and credit cards, in a separate bill on Monday.
The rest of Pelosi’s bill largely tracks with earlier iterations, though House Democrats added an extra $20 billion for education assistance for states, for a total of $50 billion.
Paul M. Krawzak, Lindsey McPherson, Doug Sword and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.