US economy

Democrats Near Deal With White House on Stimulus Package

WASHINGTON — Top Democrats and Trump administration officials said they were optimistic about finalizing an agreement on Tuesday on a roughly $2 trillion economic stabilization plan to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, after striking a tentative deal to add oversight requirements for a $500 billion government bailout fund for distressed companies.

“We’re looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill for a round of meetings on Tuesday morning.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there was “real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours” after Democrats won crucial concessions from the Trump administration.

In an interview on CNBC, she said the emerging deal would include strict oversight over the bailout fund, including installing an inspector general to monitor it, as well as what Ms. Pelosi described as a congressional panel “appointed by us to provide constraint.” The measures are similar to those put in place as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the centerpiece of the Wall Street bailout enacted in 2008 to respond to the financial meltdown.

Democrats had balked at a version of the stimulus measure drafted by Republicans that they were concerned would give the Treasury secretary too much latitude in deciding which companies could receive the funds, and allow him to delay revealing the recipients until six months after the loans were disbursed. They said it would have created a secretive government slush fund controlled by the president and his top advisers, rather than a closely monitored program accountable to taxpayers.

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“We have been pushing hard that any contract that the federal government makes with a company to give it loans, that we know of that contract in a very short period of time, that we can examine it,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said on the Senate floor, as he said the two sides were closing in on a deal. “We in the Senate, those in the House, the press and the American people will know if these things are on the level.”

The agreement was not yet final, and Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, said staff aides were reviewing the package page by page to nail down final details.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, told reporters that negotiators had also resolved a disagreement over how much funding to distribute to hospitals across the country, Three officials familiar with the talks said Democrats had secured a $25 billion increase in funding for hospitals, for a total of $100 billion.

“No matter what the president may have tweeted last night or whatever, everyone’s working in good faith,” Mr. Manchin said, referring to Mr. Trump’s complaint on Twitter late Monday night that Democrats were “asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies” and his suggestion that they “want the Virus to win.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who spent Monday hurling scathing criticism at Democrats for refusing to agree to allow the package to move forward, opened the Senate floor on Tuesday with a more upbeat message.

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“Now at last, I believe, we’re on the five-yard line,” Mr. McConnell said, taking swipes at Democrats for dragging out the process. “It’s taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here.”

He said he hoped the Senate would “get back on track” and pass a relief package, adding that the “clock has run out” for debating a plan that could help save American jobs and companies on the brink of collapse.

The measure would also provide direct payments to taxpayers, substantially increase jobless benefits and send money to states struggling to weather massive public health and economic disaster. Mr. Schumer said Republicans had agreed to extend unemployment insurance for an additional month at Democrats’ insistence, for a total of four months. The two sides had previously agreed to expand the program considerably, to include self-employed and part-time workers who traditionally have not been eligible, and to cover 100 percent of wages.

Stocks both in the United States and around the world jumped on Tuesday in anticipation of an agreement to aid America’s economy.

The growing confidence on Capitol Hill was a jarring contrast with the rancor that has reigned in the Senate for days, as Democrats twice blocked efforts to advance the plan until they could secure stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses. Republicans complained that they were turning their backs on substantial compromises and holding up desperately needed aid.

But even as partisan bickering consumed the normally staid Senate on Monday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Mr. Mnuchin huddled repeatedly to hammer out their disagreements. Both Mr. McConnell and Ms. Pelosi were kept closely informed of the talks as Mr. Mnuchin trekked between Senate offices Monday.

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Any agreement struck and approved in the Senate would still have to secure support from the Democratic majority in the House, which introduced its own $2.5 trillion legislative package on Monday.

The House is in recess, with some of its members sick or in quarantine and concerned about flying back to Washington. Leaders were considering approving the mammoth proposal by unanimous consent, a tactic reserved mostly for minor, uncontroversial measures.

“If we get this package, we’ll be setting the stage for a good rebound in the second half of the year,” said Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economic adviser. “That’s our thinking. This package will undergird workers and families, Main Street, small businesses.”

“My message is: Please just vote on it,” he added. “Get it through.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.


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