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March 23, 2020

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US Senate races to agree on massive relief plan

Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate on Saturday scrambled to complete a deal on a US$1 trillion-plus bill aimed at stemming the novel coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout for workers, industries and small businesses.

But after a second day of marathon closed-door negotiations, there was no sign of an overarching deal between negotiators, despite Republicans’ claims of bipartisan agreement on specific issues including unemployment insurance and small business assistance. “The past two days of intense bipartisan talks are very close to a resolution,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who intends to hold a vote to pass the sprawling package today.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters he expects the final legislative package to be worth US$1.3 trillion to US$1.4 trillion to combat the effects of a health crisis that many fear will lead to a spike in unemployment as businesses close and the economy falters.

Combined with actions undertaken by the US Federal Reserve and the administration, the prospective bill would have a US$2 trillion net impact on a US economy facing powerful headwind spawned by the outbreak, according to White House officials.

Republican Senator Mike Crapo, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, said the legislation could contain US$300 billion to US$500 billion in stabilization funds that the Federal Reserve could use as the basis for much larger infusions of liquidity for businesses of all sizes and configurations.

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who met twice on Saturday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, agreed that progress was being made. “I’m optimistic we can get a deal. We’re going to continue working through the night,” he said.

Lawmakers from both sides said they were at or near agreement on proposals to provide US$350 billion or more in assistance for small businesses and to enhance unemployment insurance coverage.

Democrats pressed for all coronavirus-affected workers to receive full pay for four months. “We haven’t dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. But conceptually, I think we’re there,” Schumer told CNN.

Democrats have also called for US$100 billion for hospitals to pay for protective gear, equipment such as ventilators, beds and additional doctors and nurses.

“I suspect that we’ll have a bill by tomorrow that will have significant Democratic priorities, significant Republican priorities and hopefully we can pass the bill Monday morning,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told reporters.


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