Senate Sets Up Tuesday Vote on Aid Plan as Talks Near Agreement

The Senate plans to meet Tuesday for a potential vote on an emergency stimulus package of as much as $500 billion, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said all sides are continuing talks on the measure.

McConnell said congressional leaders and the Trump administration are discussing plans Monday to add funds to a tapped-out small business aid program. The proposal also would provide money for coronavirus testing and overwhelmed hospitals.

“Since this is so urgent, I have asked that the Senate meet again tomorrow in a new session that was not previously scheduled, and the Democratic leader has agreed to my request,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “It’s past time, past time, to get this done for the country.”

Unanimous consent would be required for the Senate to pass the measure during a pro forma session which would allow most members to avoid traveling to Washington amid coronavirus restrictions.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer notified members Sunday that their chamber could meet as soon as Wednesday to consider legislation. Because an objection to unanimous consent is likely, Hoyer said House members would probably have to travel to Washington for a recorded vote.

Discussions are focused on adding $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls as much of the country remains under stay-at-home orders.

Another $50 billion to $60 billion would go to a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan program that provides financing and advances grants of as much as $10,000 for businesses.

Both of those measure have wide bipartisan support.

The plan also would include $75 billion of the $100 billion Democrats have demanded for hospitals, with a significant portion aimed at rural hospitals, as well as $25 billion for virus testing.

Several issues remain outstanding, according to three Democratic officials. A person familiar with the negotiations said Monday that Democrats and Republicans still had a disagreement over the formula to distribute health-care aid to the states.

Another remaining disagreement is over the testing program, including which agency — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health — should oversee it, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

‘Common Ground’

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both said Sunday the two sides were close to a deal. President Donald Trump was cautiously optimistic about breaking the deadlock in place last week as the Paycheck Protection Program ran through its entire $350 billion in funding.

“We have a good chance of getting a deal,” Trump said at a briefing on Sunday. “A lot of good work has been going on. We could have an answer tomorrow.”

“We have common ground,” Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we’re very close to an agreement.”

But Pelosi is coming under pressure from her party’s liberal wing to wring more concessions, including aid for state and local governments that the GOP is resisting putting in the package.

“It is going to be very difficult to support a package that doesn’t have what we need in terms of help for state and local governments,” Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on a conference call Monday.

House Democrats will get an update on the status of the talks during a caucus-wide call with Pelosi and other leaders at 4 p.m. Monday. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will be guests on the call for a discussion on the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mnuchin briefed Republicans in both chambers on the outlines of the deal during conference calls on Sunday.

State and Local Aid

During the Sunday call with GOP senators, McConnell and Mnuchin said the agreement won’t include aid for state and local governments, according to a Republican aide. That had been one of the original demands of Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Another Democratic proposal, an increase for the food stamp program, also was left out, the aide said McConnell and Mnuchin told the GOP lawmakers on the call, which was joined by Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The state and local government aid sought by Democrats was still short of what governors and mayors say they need.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors Association, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is the NGA’s vice chairman, said on April 11 that without at least $500 billion, states would have to curtail essential services as tax revenue plummets and demand for resources skyrocket.

This week’s proposed legislation is considered an interim step in efforts to prop up a U.S. economy frozen by the nationwide shutdown caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus. There’s general agreement in Congress and at the White House that a so-called phase four comprehensive economic rescue package would be needed, following the $2 trillion package approved late last month.

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