“This isn’t corporate welfare,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox Business on Monday morning. “This helps all American workers.”
The legislation aims to flood the economy with money, from individuals to small businesses to large industries amid a wave of layoffs and a sharp contraction in consumer spending. It would direct $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. It would also create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states and another $350 billion to help small businesses meet payroll costs.
“We need this to pass today,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin said key parts of the bill remained in flux, such as language that would dictate extreme assistance for the airline industry.
Talks continued into the night Sunday even after the failed procedural vote, and the legislation ballooned to about $2 trillion with Democrats pushing for more money for hospitals, state and local government and other provisions.
Leaving the Capitol just before midnight Sunday, Mnuchin sounded a positive note.
“I think we’re very close,” Mnuchin said. “The teams are going to work through the night.”
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said as he left the Capitol around the same time that there are still “a handful of issues” as the final sticking points. Schumer said the principals will reconvene about 9 a.m. Monday, with Mnuchin back on the Hill.
“We’re hopeful for a quick resolution,” Schumer said. He met in person six times Sunday with Mnuchin and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, with the last meeting coming in the 11 o’clock hour.
Democratic concerns have focused on a $500 billion funding program for loans and loan guarantees Republicans want to create, which some Democrats are labeling a “slush fund” because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money. There is little precedent for a program with a similar size and scope.
The bill also contains provisions to send $1,200 checks to many Americans and make $350 billion available to small businesses as they struggle to stay afloat with many workers and consumers confined to their homes to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
“We’re getting closer and closer, and I’m very hopeful, is how I put it, that we could get a bill in the morning,” Schumer said late Sunday, adding that the day ended on a better note than it started.
If the two sides do not reach agreement by early afternoon Monday, votes will unfold that are likely to be a replay of Sunday’s blocked path. Except this time, the U.S. financial markets will be open and trading.
Sunday was the third straight day of hours-long negotiations at the Capitol as senators blew through one self-imposed deadline after another to finalize the legislation originally introduced Thursday evening by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell was furious when Democrats voted down the necessary procedural vote around 6 p.m. Sunday, accusing them of playing games with American lives and the economy. He gave another angry speech on Senate floor about 11:30 p.m., when Schumer formally objected to holding a new vote at 9:45 a.m. Monday, which means the Senate cannot open until noon. McConnell accused Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of nixing near-agreements struck by Senate working groups, an accusation they disputed.
“Setting up the potential to rattle the markets until noon, all because he’s been unwilling to reach an agreement that his rank-and-file members and ours had pretty much reached before he and the speaker stepped in at the last minute and blew the deal up,” McConnell said. “Now maybe there’ll be some miraculous coming together tonight, I hope so. If not we will now be voting at noon rather than 9:45.”
With more than 35,000 confirmed covid-19 cases in the United States, the impacts of the crisis were growing worse and worse. Underscoring the spreading dangers, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday became the first senator to announce he had tested positive for covid-19, after working out with fellow lawmakers in the Senate gym only that morning. Not long after, Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney announced they’d be going into self-quarantine because of being in contact with Paul; Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) self-quarantined earlier after possible brushes with infected individuals.
“Why would the Democrats hold it up in a moment of time that more people are getting sick?” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Fox News on Monday. “The continuity of government you want to keep together and we will, but what’s more important, the millions of Americans out there that need our help today.”
Democrats have complained the bill assembled by Senate Republicans gives too many benefits to corporations with little oversight of how the money is spent. Trump on Sunday seemed to acknowledge Democrats’ concerns, while insisting he did not want to offer bailouts.
“I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus,” Trump said Sunday at the White House. “So I may be Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”
The bill includes massive funding streams for households, with payments scaling back for those with incomes of $75,000 and above. But many other parts of the bill are meant to address problems flagged by companies, many of whom have said they will be forced to scale back much of their operations if they don’t receive aid soon.
It also would create tremendous assistance for businesses, large and small. The $500 billion in loan programs includes $425 billion for companies, states and cities, though it doesn’t prescribe many terms to dictate how Treasury determines who receives the assistance. Another $50 billion would go to helping passenger airline companies, $8 billion for cargo air companies and $17 billion to help firms deemed important for national security. And there would be an additional $350 billion in loan guarantees for small businesses to help them avoid layoffs, and many of those loans could be forgiven if firms meet certain metrics.
Mnuchin said the sweeping economic package is designed to last for 10 to 12 weeks, and the administration would revisit whether it would seek additional assistance from Congress.
Democrats have argued that without protections for workers, companies receiving bailout money could fire their employees and pocket the taxpayer assistance, which would undermine the purpose of the federal aid. Republicans have said the program needs to be up and running immediately to help the economy before it is too late.
The partisan friction on Capitol Hill partly results from lingering resentments among Senate Republicans over the last coronavirus relief bill, a $100-billion-plus package enacted last week and negotiated between Pelosi and Mnuchin. Many Senate Republicans were unhappy with paid sick leave provisions in that bill but voted for it anyway.
The enormous package being negotiated is Congress’s third coronavirus relief bill. The first one, which became law earlier this month, appropriated $8.3 billion for the public health system, vaccine development and other needs.
Jeff Stein, Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade contributed to this report