U.S. Senate races to agree on massive coronavirus relief package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate scrambled on Saturday to forge a bipartisan agreement on a $1 trillion-plus bill aimed at stemming the economic fallout from the growing coronavirus outbreak, as talks neared a deadline for drafting and passing the legislation.

FILE PHOTO: White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters about the Trump administration’s response to the financial issues surrounding the coronoavirus outbreak, at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republican and Democratic lawmakers worked behind closed doors to reach an agreement in principle and to draft formal legislation by the end of the day to help individuals, small businesses and industries hard hit by the public health crisis, and to boost funding for healthcare efforts to control the virus.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters he expects the final legislative package to be worth $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion.

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

“We’re getting closer and closer to an agreement,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who intends to hold a vote to pass the sprawling package on Monday.

“I think we’re clearly going to get there,” he told reporters.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a number of issues were still outstanding but observed that lawmakers were “making very good progress.”

A consensus appeared to be emerging on the general contours of the package and both sides were finding common ground on benefits for individuals, small businesses and people left unemployed by coronavirus, according to Republicans.

But with Monday’s vote deadline looming, a White House official said Republicans would move forward with legislative language even if no agreement was reached on Saturday.

“We’ve got to see legislative text. The American people and the American economy, markets around the world, need to see what we’re going to do, see how it’s going to deliver relief,” said Eric Ueland, President Donald Trump’s legislative liaison.

Republicans and Democrats wrangled in private over how to get money into the hands of individuals impacted by the health crisis including proposals that would issue $1,000 checks to some Americans and utilize state unemployment insurance programs to provide income to those unable to work due to the effects of coronavirus on schools and employers.

Major U.S. airlines and their unions also called on Congress to include federal cash grants to support paychecks. But their plea did not appear to find support with senators or the administration.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said lawmakers were close to agreement on a provision that could provide more than $350 billion in aid to small businesses via federally guaranteed loans.

Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Eric Beech and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Mary Milliken and Chris Reese

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