U.S. Senate ‘on the 5-yard line’ in coronavirus stimulus negotiations, McConnell says

Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to reaching a deal on a $2 trillion US coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

Trump’s administration has launched a major push for action to try to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic and steep stock market decline, after he spent weeks dismissing the risks.

Republicans, Democrats and top aides to President Donald Trump have negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Republican-majority Senate and Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

Eric Timpson gives blood at the American Red Cross donation centre Monday in Murray, Utah. The U.S. surgeon general has urged healthy Americans, especially younger ones, to donate blood as supplies dwindle amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people — nearly a third of the nation’s population — to stay at home.

While details of the emerging bipartisan bill were not available, it is expected to provide financial aid for Americans out of work because of the virus and help for struggling industries such as airlines.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the floor of the chamber that “the urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone.”

“At last, I believe we’re on the five-yard line, we are very close,” McConnell said, though he accused Democrats of “obstruction” during the negotiation.

Though not mentioning her name, McConnell singled out the “House Speaker,” Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal that also includes $4 billion that would allow states to conduct the November presidential and congressional elections by mail.

That legislation would likely be irrelevant if a bipartisan deal is forged in the Senate.

‘Congress must approve the deal’

Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, said a deal could come later in the day as he returned to the Capitol for more talks on Tuesday morning.

“We’re looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today. The president wants us to get this done today. We’re down to a small number of issues,” Mnuchin told reporters.

To become law, the measure must be passed by the House and Senate before being signed by Trump. Mnuchin said he had spoken with the Republican president at least 10 times during the marathon negotiating session a day earlier.

As talks concluded late into the night, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the two sides were nearing an agreement and he expected that the legislation would be voted upon on Tuesday.

WATCH l The economy’s the thing, Trump says:

U.S. President Donald Trump is talking about ways to ease restrictions in place to reduce further spread of COVID-19 and getting people back to work. 1:59

Trump’s stance in the face of the virus once again shifted beginning Sunday night and continuing at a Monday news conference. The president has insisted that the economy cannot be in shutdown mode for a lengthy period of time, despite concerns from epidemiologists that sending people back to work could prolong the public health crisis and toll from the virus.

At least one top-ranking Republican House member is also concerned about returning to “business as normal” too soon.

“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” said Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

In a series of tweets posted Tuesday, Trump implored lawmakers to act.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy,” he said.

Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday at the signs Washington was nearing a deal.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,130.26 points, or 6.08 per cent, at the open to 19,722.19. The S&P 500 opened higher by 107.04 points, or 4.78 per cent, at 2,344.44. The Nasdaq Composite gained 335.47 points, or 4.89 per cent, to 7,196.15 at the opening bell.

WHO concerned about American trends

While there were positive signs among traders, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicentre of the pandemic.

In Geneva, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the United States.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 per cent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 per cent were in the United States.

Medical personnel prepare to transport a woman to a medical facility shortly after she arrived at a coronavirus mobile testing site Monday in The Villages, Fla. The Villages, a retirement community, is one of the largest concentration of seniors in the U.S. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559. The number of overall cases could be understated, as some hospitals and states have complained about a lack of testing kits.

Federal lawmakers Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and congressmen Ben McAdams (Utah) and Mario Díaz-Balart (Florida) are among those who have tested positive for the virus, as have members of the military. The Pentagon said on Tuesday that 174 U.S. service members are confirmed to have the virus, an increase of 41 from the previous day.

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of co–ordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Tuesday it would award $100 million US immediately to 1,381 health centres across the nation to bolster their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The health centres may use the funds to meet screening and testing needs, acquire medical supplies and boost telehealth capacity, the HHS said. The $100 million was earmarked in an emergency spending bill of $8.3 billion signed by Trump on March 6.

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