Negotiators from Congress and the White House resumed top-level talks Saturday on a ballooning $1tn-plus economic rescue package, urged by Donald Trump to strike a deal to steady a nation thoroughly upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
It was an extraordinary moment in Washington: Congress undertaking the most ambitious federal effort yet to shore up households and the US economy and a president angry and lashing out at all comers. All while the global outbreak and the nationwide shutdown grip an anxious, isolated population bracing for a healthcare crisis and looming recession.
Officials put the price tag at nearly $1.4tn and said with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump $2tn into the US economy. Trump, during a briefing at the White House on Saturday, expressed optimism that it could be agreed upon soon.
“They’re all negotiating and everybody’s working hard and they want to get to a solution that’s the right solution, I think we’re very close,“ said Trump, who continued to strike a confident tone about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon.
“We are going to be celebrating a great victory in the not too distant future,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, key congressional and White House officials converged Saturday for more talks on the sweeping aid package, which would provide paychecks for suddenly jobless Americans, money for hospitals and aid to industry.
The Senate convened the rare weekend session with the aim of drafting the package Saturday, holding an initial vote Sunday and winning Senate passage on Monday.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said Saturday that negotiators are making “important progress,” but urged talks to wrap up.
“This is not a political opportunity, this is a national emergency,” he said. “It’s time to come together, finalize the results of our bipartisan discussions and close this out.”
Despite the enormous pressure on Washington to act swiftly, the challenges are apparent. Lawmakers and administration officials labored late into the evening Friday over eye-popping sums and striking federal interventions, surpassing even the 2008-09 bank bailout and stimulus.
Trump has largely stayed out of the details, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle privately acknowledge may have sped up the process, but he said Saturday that he would be lobbying the lead negotiators. He also expressed a clear distaste for any industry, including the airlines, that would use federal assistance to buy back its own stock in an effort to increase profits.
Banning stock buy-backs is one of Democrats’ top priorities in the emerging rescue package as lawmakers strain to avoid a repeat of earlier politically toxic bailouts. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that meant no layoffs, no salary boosts for executives and no stock buy-backs.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin began negotiations with McConnell, Schumer and other senators from both parties using McConnell’s GOP offer as a starting point.
The GOP plan aims to pump billions into $1,200 direct checks to Americans and provide billions to small businesses to pay workers idled during the global pandemic.
But Democrats say McConnell’s plan is insufficient, arguing for greater income support for workers and a “Marshall Plan” for the US healthcare industry, which is preparing for an onslaught of newly sick patients.