By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to reaching a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“At last, I believe, we’re on the five-yard line,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, using a football analogy meaning close to scoring, as the chamber opened its session on Tuesday morning.
“We are very close,” added McConnell, the top Republican in Congress.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the two sides had agreed to more oversight provisions of a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit businesses, resolving a key sticking point.
“I think there is a real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” Pelosi told CNBC.
Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, told reporters that lawmakers hope to have a draft ready within the next two to three hours. He confirmed the changes to the industry fund. “There’s better oversight,” Mnuchin said.
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.
Those concerns appear to have been addressed.
“I’m very optimistic that there will be a deal announced this morning,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on MSNBC.
Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday as signs that Washington was nearing a deal on the rescue package gave a shot of optimism to markets reeling under the biggest selloff since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
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.
As talks concluded late on Monday, 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.
‘ALL OF THE NONSENSE’
Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides had 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 and signed by the Republican president.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, 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.
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.
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.
Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.
But the coronavirus has affected their ranks, giving Democrats even more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Will Dunham)