Sunday, March 22, 2020

Bipartisan Talks Falter on Massive Economic Rescue Package
Nancy Pelosi says House Democrats plan to release their own bill.

03/22/2020 01:22 PM EDT

Negotiations on massive $1.6 trillion-plus emergency economic package to deal with the coronavirus crisis faltered on Sunday, and House Democrats are now planning to introduce their own proposal, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to go ahead with a key procedural vote at 3 p.m. on Sunday, and he said that congressional leaders and the White House are "very close" to agreement on a massive economic package worth at least $1.6 trillion. Senate GOP leaders circulated text of a nearly 580-page bill to senators' offices and K Street before the vote.

"I think it's safe to say we're very close," McConnell told reporters following a nearly hour-long meeting in his office with Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

"We have integrated a number of ideas the Democrats had over the last 48 hours in these working groups that you're familiar with. Now we're at a point in the discussions where people will say yes or no, and I'm confident given the desire to see an outcome, that we'll get to yes,” he said.

McConnell predicted the Senate would vote Sunday afternoon for cloture for a "shell bill." That would allow senators to move forward on consideration of the actual legislation, although hurdles remain. McConnell wants to have a final vote on Monday.

But Pelosi indicated that House Democrats didn't support the Senate bill and will move ahead with their own proposal.

“We’ll be introducing our own bill and hopefully it will be compatible," Pelosi said after leaving McConnell's office.

"I can tell you what happened -- we're continuing to talk," Schumer said. The New York Democrat wouldn't say whether he'd advise Senate Democrats to vote against cloture, which would totally disrupt McConnell's timetable for passing the stimulus package. Such a vote could be politically risky for Senate Democrats as the party seeks to win the Senate back. McConnell and President Donald Trump could then hit them for obstruction in the face of a unprecedented public health emergency and economic slowdown.

But Pelosi's announcement means that she is not considering just taking up the Senate bill and passing it through the House on unanimous consent basis. That also means the House may be forced back into session, even though many lawmakers are concerned about the threat from the coronavirus and the difficulties in reaching Capitol Hill from their home districts.

Democrats are saying that there's still major hurdles before they get to an agreement.

According to Democrats, there's still no language preventing layoffs for companies that accept federal aid. The source also said the tentative proposal gives too much discretion to the Treasury Department on who gets funds and does not include strong enough provisions to prevent stock buybacks. In addition, funding for the hard-hit airline industry is a major sticking point.

Democrats are also concerned about Senate language affecting funding for Planned Parenthood.

Schumer and Pelosi have stayed in close touch with Mnuchin throughout the negotiations. Pelosi flew back to Washington on Saturday.

Late Saturday evening, McConnell instructed chairmen of key committees to draft language that senators could review before a floor vote Sunday that would advance the legislation, in an effort to meet a Monday deadline for passage. Democrats insist there’s no final deal.

While outstanding issues remain, Democrats are expected to see a win with $250 billion allocated to unemployment insurance — one of the major sticking points in the negotiations. In addition, billions are expected to go to hospitals to address the influx of patients due to the pandemic. Schumer has called for a “Marshall Plan” for hospitals.

In addition, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) reached an agreement in principle Saturday evening with Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), on the package’s small business provisions. The final deal on small businesses would amount to $350 billion, covering 58 million American workers and more than 30 million small businesses, Rubio tweeted Saturday.

Meanwhile, as much as $500 billion is expected to go to distressed industries, including airlines. Democrats insist the package include provisions to stop stock buybacks or increases in pay for top executives.

The Senate bill would mostly prevent companies that accept bailout money from buying back their own stock, although that restriction could be waived by the Treasury Secretary.

Democrats have also pushed for expanded paid leave provisions. But Republicans are showing little interest, with GOP aides noting the House-passed second aid package already included provisions to expand paid sick leave.

Republicans are also pushing for $250 billion in direct cash payments to workers. Under the original GOP proposal, individuals and families would receive $1,200 and $2,400 in direct cash payments, depending on their income level. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have raised concerns that the original language of the provision penalizes lower-income Americans who do have a taxable income. But Republican aides say the issue will be resolved in the final text.

Victoria Guida contributed to this story.

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