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Democrats Block Stimulus Bill as Talks Stall: Congress Update

March 22, 2020, 10:50 PM

U.S. senators met Sunday in a bid to finalize a bipartisan bill worth more than $1 trillion to help soften the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say they want to add more worker-focused provisions to the draft legislation released late last week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been representing the Trump administration in the talks.

Here are the latest developments:

Democrats Block Stimulus Bill as Talks Stall (6:42 p.m.)

Democrats blocked a procedural Senate vote to advance the coronavirus economic rescue package Sunday after congressional leaders disagreed on how to spend nearly $2 trillion. This complicates McConnell’s plan for the Senate to pass the bill Monday.

Both parties want immediate and extensive relief for an economy ravaged by the coronavirus. But they continue to differ on key sections, including a $500 billion chunk of the bill that could be used to help corporations, including airlines, or state and local governments.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left a meeting in McConnell’s office earlier Sunday saying they had no deal and the House would write its own package -- a move that could add days of partisan wrangling.

Pelosi Says House Is Finalizing Counterproposal (4:38 p.m.)

The Democratic speaker said the House is finalizing its version of the next round of fiscal stimulus, even as Republican and Democratic senators try to resolve disputes over the Senate bill.

“There is at this time a big difference between the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act and what the Senate Republicans are proposing,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.

If the House doesn’t take up the same version of the legislation passed in the Senate, it will take longer for the bill to get to President Donald Trump for his signature. Negotiations in the Senate continue, since McConnell would need Democratic support to pass his bill.

McConnell Delays Procedural Vote on Stimulus (3:03 p.m.)

McConnell put off a procedural vote on the stimulus bill amid objections from Democrats that the GOP’s draft legislation ignored some of their key demands.

Democrats threatened to vote against moving forward with the bill unless they were able to strike a deal on several provisions. The vote was set to take place about 3 p.m. and McConnell delayed it until 6 p.m.

Democrats Slam ‘Corporate Cronies’ GOP Bailout (2:33 p.m.)

Senate Democrats say the current version of the stimulus bill is lacking when it comes to funds for state and local governments, expanded emergency leave provisions, support for treatment of the uninsured, and relief for student loans, according to a person familiar with their objections.

Democrats also want the bill to bolster unemployment insurance for more than three months, protect people from eviction or foreclosure and send direct payments to all Americans, even those who didn’t file tax returns in 2018 and 2019.

Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown compared the GOP proposal to the 2008 bailout that gave “Wall Street a blank check with taxpayer money.” Still, he said he’ll continue negotiating with his Republican colleagues.

“We have to provide real relief to workers and hold corporations accountable,” Brown said in a statement. “That means no corporate bailouts without investing in the Dignity of Work.”

Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen said the current version of the stimulus bill amounts to a bailout for “big corporate cronies at everyone else’s expense.”

Democrats Pan GOP Stimulus Offer, Plan Own Bill (14:09 ET)

Pelosi and Senate Democrats said the current version of the virus stimulus bill doesn’t go far enough to address their concerns, casting doubt on McConnell’s timeline for a Senate vote Monday.

Illinis Senator Dick Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership, said Senate Republicans were wrong to say they’d move ahead to drafting legislative language before Democrats had signed off.

Among other hurdles, Durbin and Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, said Republicans’ offer didn’t provide enough of a ramp-up in health care resources, such as expanding hospital capacity.

“We have to have the health care piece large enough to help our hospitals,” Stabenow told reporterd. “What we’ve seen so far is not.”

GOP Sees Deal in Sight With Details in Flux (12:57 ET)

Republican leaders are hopeful they can resolve outstanding issues on the virus-relief package by Sunday afternoon, as they have some agreement on total spending levels for certain provisions, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

Republicans agreed to the Democratic request to bolster unemployment insurance and give more aid to states, the people said.

Lawmakers are still discussing how to characterize the loans to small businesses that would be forgiven if companies retain most of their workforce, essentially turning them into grants, the people said.

McConnell Says Virus Stimulus Deal is Close (12:42 ET)

McConnell said Republican and Democratic negotiators are nearing a deal on the massive stimulus package he still plans to put to a vote in the Senate on Monday.

“I’m confident we’ll get to yes,” McConnell said. “Make no mistake about it, we’ll be voting tomorrow.”

The Republican leader said the most recent version of the bill has buy-in from “rank and file” Democrats who helped negotiate specific provisions.

When asked if the Democratic-led House will introduce a different version, McConnell said it “would be best for the country” for the House to take up the Senate version he expects to pass on Monday.

Pelosi Says No Deal Yet on Virus Stimulus Bill (12:19 ET)

Pelosi said there’s still no bipartisan agreement, and that House Democrats plan to introduce their own version of the stimulus package. She said the Senate is leading the talks now because McConnell set the goal of voting by Monday.

“We’ll be introducing our own bill and hopefully it will be compatible with what they discussed in the Senate,” Pelosi said.

McConnell will speak with reporters at the Capitol.

Bipartisan Leaders Meet on Stimulus Disputes (11:34 ET)

Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi are meeting with McConnell and Mnuchin on Capitol Hill to try to resolve disagreements on the fiscal stimulus package.

“We need a bill that puts workers first not corporations,” Schumer said on his way to McConnell’s office.

Democratic senators will also meet at 1 p.m. in Washington to discuss the most recent version of the legislation, according to a Democratic aide.

Democrats Seek Limits on Firms Getting Loans (10:31 ET)

Democrats on Sunday continued to push for more specific conditions for companies receiving loans as part of the stimulus package.

One GOP draft of the bill says companies receiving loans must keep employees on staff “to the extent possible,” but Democrats want to change this provision to offer loan forgiveness only if at least 90% of the workforce is retained, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Democrats took issue with the discretion that the Treasury secretary has for the money going to corporations, including which companies receive funds, the person said. Mnuchin would also have the option to waive restrictions on stock buybacks under the Republican proposal, the person said.

Democrats also want a more than two year restriction on increasing executive pay for companies that receive federal loans, the person said.

Mnuchin Sees Package on Track for Monday Passage (09:53 EDT)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration is nearing agreement with Congressional leaders from both parties on a massive aid program aimed at supporting the U.S. economy through the next 10 to 12 weeks.

“I hope this gets passed on Monday, because we need the money now,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mnuchin said lawmakers were likely to wrap up talks on the package on Sunday, and vote Monday morning.

Senate Reconvenes For Stimulus Negotiations

The top Republican and Democratic leaders will meet Sunday at 11 a.m. in Washington to discuss the latest version of the massive stimulus package that members of both parties agree is necessary to shore up the economy.

The main provisions include direct payments to American households, more generous unemployment insurance, loans to help small businesses meet payroll and loans, and loan guarantees for the hardest hit industries, including airlilnes and hospitals.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote in the afternoon that will set up a final vote on the bill as soon as Monday. The House would still need to pass the measure before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Catch Up on Washington’s Virus Response

  • Trump, Congressional Leaders Say Deal on Virus Stimulus Close
  • Mnuchin Sees Emergency Aid Package on Track for Monday Passage
  • House Democrats Want Trump Team’s Answers on Supply Shortages
  • Trump Pushes an Unproven Coronavirus Drug, and Patients Stock Up
  • Fed Going All In to Save Economy. Here’s What Could Come Next

--With assistance from Christopher Condon, Nancy Ognanovich, Laura Litvan, Jack Fitzpatrick, Steven T. Dennis, Jennifer Jacobs and Colin Wilhelm.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net;
Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington, D.C. at jfitzpatri53@bloomberg.net;
Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net

Joe Sobczyk, Ros Krasny

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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