Mnuchin, Schumer optimistic on coronavirus stimulus package, say deal is close

The legislation is believed to contain around $2 trillion in aid for workers and businesses.
Image: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) makes a statement after meetings to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., makes a statement on coronavirus aid legislation on Sunday, March 22, 2020.Mary F. Calvert / Reuters

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By Rebecca Shabad, Julie Tsirkin, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Garrett Haake

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared to be nearing a deal Tuesday on a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package to help American workers and businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.

After Mnuchin and several White House officials arrived on Capitol Hill to meet with Schumer and wrap up the outstanding issues, Schumer said on the floor that there are a few outstanding issues that could be smoothed over "within the next few hours."

"Last night, I thought we're on the 5-yard line. Right now we're on the 2. As I also said last night, at this point, of the few outstanding issues, I don't see any that can't be overcome," he said after the meeting, which acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also attended.

While the morning negotiations were underway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor: “If we act today, what Americans will remember, and what history will record, is that the Senate did the right thing. That we came together."

Schumer laid out several of the new additions to the package, including what he described as "unemployment insurance on steroids."

He said that for anyone who loses their job in this crisis, "the federal government will pay your salary, your full salary, for now four months." He said these provisions would not only "put money into the hands of those who need it so much," but it would also pump money into the economy and will keep companies intact.

The proposal would provide an additional $600 per week above what a person's state already provides, which is expected to replace 100 percent of most people's salaries, according to a Democratic aide.

The latest version of the bill also includes at least $100 billion in assistance for hospitals in the form of loans, grants and other mechanisms, according to two Democratic aides and one Republican aide.

"Our whole health care system needs desperately needed dollars, they need them fast, and they need them in a very large amount," Schumer said.

Negotiators also removed the phase-in of direct payments from the original version of the bill, which means that lower-income people would also receive $1,200, according to two Republican sources. The original bill would have given lower-income people less money. Now, individuals making up to $75,000 a year would receive a $1,200 payment and a couple filing jointly could receive $2,400, and $500 per child, if they make up to $150,000. Individuals who make up to $99,000 and couples making up to $198,000 would receive a little less.

According to Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., the measure would provide $350 billion for small businesses and $240 billion in relief for health care, including $75 billion that would be allocated to hospitals directly; $11 billion for the development of vaccines, treatments and other preparedness needs; and $4.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also fueled hopes that a deal was imminent Tuesday morning, saying in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box" that there is "real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours."

Pelosi said that a number of the Democrats' requests have been added to the bill, such as provisions that would require both a congressional panel and an inspector general to provide oversight over a $500 billion loan program to corporations.

"I'm optimistic Chuck Schumer and the House Democrats used their leverage to a great extent to make this a much more worker-oriented initiative," she said. "We think the bill has moved sufficiently to the side of workers."

Because most House members are back in their districts due to the coronavirus, Pelosi said that it's her goal to pass the stimulus by unanimous consent so members won't have to return to Washington to vote in person. If the bill contains what Pelosi described as "poison pills," however, she added that she would have no choice but to amend the bill and go to conference with the Senate.

Trump urged Congress to approve a deal "without all of the nonsense" on Tuesday, saying, "The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy."

After emerging from negotiations just before midnight on Monday, Mnuchin and Schumer told reporters separately that they had made progress and just a few sticking points remained. Staff continued to draft the massive package overnight.

Mnuchin said that he and Schumer had consulted with both Trump and McConnell on Monday about the progress made on the legislation. Mnuchin called the president, Schumer said, and told him "we were very, very close to the agreement [and] he seemed very happy with that." He also added that Trump seemed "very positive" about the status of the talks.

Meanwhile, around the time that both Mnuchin and Schumer spoke, Trump criticized Pelosi and Democrats' demands. He likely was referring to legislation Pelosi unveiled Monday that is separate from the developing package in the Senate.

He tweeted around 11:30 p.m. ET: "Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies. They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn't agree!"

Trump also tweeted a link to a National Review story about last-minute demands by Democrats and the president said, "This will never be approved by me, or any other Republican!"

It's unclear whether Pelosi supports the agreement coming together in the Senate. Schumer said that he talks to her "all the time" but when asked if the speaker is on board, he said, "I'm telling you what I said and that’s it."

At an afternoon news conference Monday, Pelosi unveiled her own version of a stimulus package that would cost more than $2.5 trillion that she said would require any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars to protect their workers' wages and benefits. She said it would also strengthen unemployment insurance "so that it can replace the average wages of our workers who are losing their jobs and hours."