U.S. House to pass coronavirus aid bill, Republican support unclear

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will pass a coronavirus economic aid package on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, but it was unclear whether President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans would support it.

The package would provide for free coronavirus testing and two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, Pelosi said.

“We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope so that we can pursue the precise science-based response that is necessary,” Pelosi said in a televised address that aired one hour before Trump was expected to declare a national emergency. [nL4N2B60ZV]

Republicans and Democrats have struggled to agree on measures to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic, which has infected 138,000 people worldwide, killed more than 5,000 and shuttered schools, sports arenas, theaters and offices.

Republicans have waited to hear from Trump before weighing in on the measure. The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, did not comment after he returned from a White House meeting with Trump.

Pelosi does not need support from Trump’s Republicans to pass legislation out of the House. But it would probably not get far in the Republican-controlled Senate without bipartisan support.

The two sides are trying to hammer out an agreement on an economic aid package to follow the $8.3 billion Congress approved last week for vaccines and other disease-fighting measures.

Pelosi earlier in the day had said she was close to an agreement with Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin, Trump’s point person on the issue. She did not respond when asked whether congressional Republicans or the Trump administration supported the bill.

Mnuchin has proposed a variety of tax breaks, while Pelosi’s Democrats have called for expanding the safety net to help those who may lose work.

Trump has called for a $1 trillion payroll tax cut, which has drawn little enthusiasm from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The latest Democratic version, which circulated among lobbyists and lawmakers on Friday morning, pulls back an initial proposal that would have created a new, permanent sick-leave benefit for the one-third of U.S. workers who must go without pay if they stay home sick. Republicans called that a deal-breaker.

The new proposal would only provide sick leave during a national emergency.

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It would prevent the Trump administration from imposing new work requirements during the crisis that would affect childless adults who get government help paying for groceries, according to a text seen by Reuters. That requirement, due to kick in on April 1, would affect 700,000 people.

It would bolster unemployment aid and a program that provides free breakfast and lunch to low-income students.

Any package would not reach Trump’s desk until next week at the earliest. The Republican-controlled Senate postponed a planned recess and will return on Monday, but has left town for the weekend.

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