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Trump Pushes Congress on Coronavirus Rescue Aid

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

U.S. President Donald Trump pushed Congress Tuesday to quickly complete negotiations on a $2 trillion economic rescue package to help American workers and businesses severely impacted by the deadly coronavirus.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” Trump said on Twitter. “The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!”

He complained, as Republican congressional leaders have, that Democratic lawmakers are trying to augment the rescue package with funding for projects unrelated to the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not about the ridiculous Green New Deal,” Trump said of proposals to protect against climate change. “It is about putting our great workers and companies BACK TO WORK!”

He jabbed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, for her version of the rescue package, claiming that it includes more government funding beyond that for coronavirus than the Senate version Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is negotiating with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Still, Pelosi told CNBC, “I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” with Senate passage of its revised version of the measure Tuesday night.

Those close to the negotiations said the White House has agreed to include increased oversight of a $500 billion lending program for businesses included in the aid package. That was a key demand of Democrats who voiced fears that without extra scrutiny some businesses might still lay off workers or use the government cash for stock buy backs or bigger salaries for executives.

Mnuchin told reporters that a “small number of issues” needed to be resolved yet, but added, “We are looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today.”

Just before midnight Monday, Schumer said “a few little differences” remained, but that “they would not hold up a final agreement.”

While urging Americans to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly infectious virus, Trump has also expressed impatience about the effect the coronavirus is having on the American economy, the world’s largest.

On Monday, he said, “America will again, and soon be open for business. Very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting, a lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself, we're not gonna let the cure be worse than the problem.”

Pelosi urged much more caution before any stay-at-home restrictions are eased.

“I think we need a major scientific intervention right now as to what does work and doesn’t work about stopping the spread of this,” Pelosi told CNBC. “As we go forward, I think it has to be so much more science-based. We either see a light at the end of the tunnel of this because of our scientific basis for staying home and this or that is working, or if we just forget that, that light at the tunnel can be the proverbial train coming at us.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks outside her office on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2020.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks outside her office on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2020.

She added, “The country has to make that decision, and it’s not a question of let old, sick people die so the markets can thrive. I hear that in some of the conversation. It’s about how we address this in a scientific way and not notion-mongering, but evidence-based decision-making.”

Republican and Democratic leaders have exchanged sharp words as negotiations on the aid package unfolded in recent days, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accusing Democrats of delaying the process by asking for changes to the bill and Schumer saying McConnell wasted time by bringing two procedural votes on the measure he knew would fail.

Democrats first blocked advancing the aid package on Sunday. After more negotiations Sunday night and Monday morning, they again voted against moving the legislation forward on Monday afternoon, triggering the fresh talks between Schumer and Mnuchin, with a phone call to Trump.

The aid package is aimed at boosting the U.S. economy by sending direct payments to more than 90% of Americans and a vast array of U.S. businesses to help them weather the immediate and burgeoning economic effects of the coronavirus.

Most U.S. families of four would get $3,000 in assistance, with the aid package also creating the $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states, and $350 billion more to help small businesses meet payroll costs at a time when there is a declining demand for their products and services.

Democrats focused their objections on the $500 billion lending program for businesses, which some critics called a “slush fund” because the Treasury Department would have wide discretion over who gets the money, with little accounting for how the money is spent.

That led to inclusion of an oversight panel to review the government handouts to businesses, to try to make certain the money is spent appropriately.

Governors in at least 13 states have ordered millions of people to stay home, in effect quarantined, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. No national shutdown is planned.

The toll from the coronavirus is mounting in the U.S. Nearly 44,000 cases have been confirmed, with more than 500 deaths. Both figures have markedly increased in recent days.