WASHINGTON - Top U.S. lawmakers and key Trump administration officials negotiated again Monday to resolve their differences on provisions in 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.
The Senate fell far short of advancing the legislation on Sunday, with Democrats saying it was weighted too heavily to favor businesses over workers, hospitals and health care professionals. Republicans accused the Democrats of obstructing the aid at a time Americans need it the most as the effects of the virus severely impact their jobs and financial well-being.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump's key negotiator with lawmakers, rejected Democrats' claims that aid would assist American businesses at the expense of individual workers.
"This isn't corporate welfare," Mnuchin told the Fox Business Network. "This helps all American workers."
At a Glance: Nearly $2 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Package The details are subject to change as congressional leaders and the White House continue negotiating the nearly $2 trillion package
Later, after a new round of talks, Mnuchin said, "We look forward to a big vote today. We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already, and we're closing out issues."
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.
Most U.S. families of four would get $3,000 in assistance, with the aid package also creating a $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 are calling 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.
Trump appeared to agree with the Democrats' contention.
"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 (stock) price and then get a bonus," Trump said Sunday. "So I may be Republican, but I don't like that. I want them to use the money for the workers."
The negotiations over the scope and details of the legislation came as European and U.S. stock indexes continued their March freefall in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
By mid-day, two key U.S. market indexes had dropped more than 4%, with European figures only slightly better near the close of trading Monday.
Wall Street is coming off its worst week since 2008 and investors are looking to Congress and the rescue package to stem the losses.
Even as the lawmakers talked Sunday, 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 eight states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware in the East, Illinois and Ohio in the U.S. heartland, Louisiana in the South 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 38,000 confirmed cases and at least 462 deaths, with both figures markedly increasing in recent days.