U.S. Senate looks to strike deal on coronavirus relief package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate were pushing toward agreement on a far-reaching $1 trillion-plus coronavirus stimulus package on Monday after weekend talks ended with no deal.

Democrats objected to the bill on Sunday as being overly weighted toward corporate interests at the expense of healthcare workers, hospitals and state and local governments. Republicans accused them of obstructing a badly needed bill in the middle of a national emergency.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged senators to reach a deal, rejecting Democratic claims that the bill amounted to massive corporate welfare.

Lawmakers were keenly aware that failure to strike a deal could trigger heavy losses in U.S. stock markets. Stock futures were up sharply on Monday after the Federal Reserve took unprecedented steps to support U.S. households and companies more directly with credit.

The Republican-led Senate is scheduled to reconvene at noon (1600 GMT).

Both sides remained confident that a deal could still be agreed upon swiftly, and Republican President Donald Trump warned that a rattled American public would take a dim view of an impasse.

“The only reason a deal couldn’t get done is pure politics,” Trump said on Sunday.

The bill is Congress’ third effort to blunt the economic toll of a disease that has killed at least 428 people in the United States and sickened more than 34,000, leading state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

The measure includes financial aid for regular Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Before a Senate procedural vote on Sunday, Democrats raised objections to the relief bill, with Senator Chuck Schumer, the upper chamber’s top Democrat, saying more money was needed for community health centers, nursing homes, masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and aid to state and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Democrats to stop their “obstruction,” saying it was delaying aid and hurting financial markets. Democrats decried the Republican proposal as prioritizing the needs of Wall Street and corporate America over those of average people.

Negotiations between the two sides, along with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, went deep into night on Sunday. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats in that chamber would begin crafting an alternative bill should the Senate not reach an agreement.

In a sign of the disease’s spread, Republican Senator Rand Paul on Sunday said he had tested positive. Republican Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney said they would self-quarantine as a result, which will likely keep them off the floor for further votes.

At the White House on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said 254,000 Americans have been tested for the virus and slightly more than 30,000 have tested positive.

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