Tue, 02 Jun 2020

Massive US Coronavirus Economic Aid Bill Stalls in Senate

Voice of America
23 Mar 2020, 10:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - A massive $1.8 trillion economic aid package to send money to most Americans and many businesses that have been severely impacted by the deadly coronavirus failed to advance in the U.S. Senate Sunday.

The aid package was 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.

Democrats objected to the bill saying it would benefit corporations. They want more federal money for community health centers, nursing homes, masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and aid to state and local governments to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill's failure to pass a procedural vote sends lawmakers back to the drawing board and U.S. futures markets tumbling. Futures for the S&P 500 fell 5%, triggering a pause in trading. Oil prices also fell: The price of U.S. oil tumbled 6% to $21.26 a barrel, and the international benchmark was down 7% to $25.10.Wall Street is coming off its worst week since 2008 and investors are looking to Congress and this rescue package to stem the losses.

Earlier Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there was no deal on the aid package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed out at the Democrats.

"If we aren't able to act tomorrow, it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem," he said.

His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Chuck Schumer earlier had said the problems with the bill could be overcome in the next 24 hours.

The top congressional leaders met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. President Donald Trump's chief negotiator in the aid talks, who earlier in the morning had voiced optimism in a national television interview that a deal was imminent.

Among other elements, the lawmakers were at odds over a $425 billion pool of money for loans and loan guarantees that Republicans want to create, which some opposition Democrats have labeled as a "slush fund" because they believe Mnuchin's Treasury Department would have too much discretion in deciding who receives the money.

McConnell is advancing a bill that would send $1,200 checks to most U.S. adults and provide hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to businesses that have been sharply impacted by the pandemic.

But Pelosi other Democrats are said to be concerned that McConnell's proposal does not assist workers enough and needs tougher provisions to prevent bailed-out corporations from carrying out stock buybacks that would make already-wealthy executives even richer.

With the standoff, Pelosi said the Democratic-controlled House would pass its own economic aid package, apparently leaving further negotiations with the Senate in limbo. Congress had hoped to send Trump the legislation by midweek, but it was not clear whether the stalemated talks would affect that timetable.

Even as the lawmakers talked, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ophthalmologist by profession, announced that he had contracted the coronavirus, the first senator and the third member of Congress to test positive.

Aside from the obvious impact of the public health crisis, perhaps 2 million or more U.S. citizens have been laid off from work as thousands of schools, national businesses and such community enterprises as gyms, restaurants, bars and stores have shut their doors, either voluntarily or under state and local government orders.

Governors in five states - New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in the East, Illinois in the U.S. heartland and California on the Pacific Coast - have ordered millions of people to stay home, in effect quarantined to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. No national shutdown is planned.

All stock market gains since President Trump took office in January 2017 have been erased in a matter of a few weeks, while economists say the U.S., the world's biggest economy with more than $21 trillion in goods and services produced last year, could soon slip into a recession, its first in more than a decade.

The toll from the coronavirus is mounting in the U.S., with more than 27,000 confirmed cases and at least 323 deaths, with both figures markedly increasing in recent days.

At a White House briefing on Sunday, Trump said he still had hope that a massive aid package could still pass Congress swiftly.

Before the congressional talks stalled, Mnuchin told the "Fox News Sunday" show, "I do think it will get done. The president is very determined to help Americans."

"We think we can stabilize the economy," Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin said the aid package would give thousands of small businesses, those with 500 or fewer employees, enough cash to keep their businesses afloat for two weeks provided they keep their employees working as soon as they can and not dismiss them.

He said this part of the aid package would affect about 50% of the U.S. economy, about half of its workforce of 160 million people.

Mnuchin said that in addition, most Americans would get direct aid, with a family of four getting about $3,000 in one-time assistance. Congressional leaders say this part of the aid package would extend to individuals earning up to $99,000 annually and married couples up to $198,000, which covers about 91% of U.S. households.

The Treasury chief said a third plank of the package would sanction $4 trillion in lending rights for the country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, to inject new liquidity into the American economy as it sees fit.

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