Senate appears close to a deal over massive coronavirus stimulus bill

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Senate hotly debates coronavirus relief bill

Washington — The Senate appears to be inching closer to a deal on a massive stimulus bill to respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, after late-night negotiations between Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats and Republicans are "very close" to a deal and he hopes to move forward on Tuesday.

"We're on the 5-yard line," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Today we can make all of the Washington drama fade away. If we act today, what Americans will remember and what history will record is that the Senate did the right thing."

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who introduced her own $2.5 trillion stimulus package Monday, likewise said she was hopeful that both chambers could come to an agreement.

"I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours," Pelosi said in an interview on CNBC.

Senate Democrats blocked a bill crafted by McConnell for a second time on Monday, arguing the bill doesn't do enough to help workers affected by the crisis, lacks necessary oversight of money for corporations and doesn't include enough support for state and local governments.

"I'm very confident that this morning there will be a final deal between Senator Schumer and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. They have been negotiating all night," Democratic Senator Chris Coons told reporters Tuesday morning. "It's gone from a large list of unresolved issues to a short list of unresolved issues on the three biggest faults with the bill that caused the Democratic caucus to vote against it on Sunday."

The GOP proposal would send checks of up to $1,200 to most taxpayers, and more for those with children, as well as extend hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants to companies hurt by the downturn.

Senate Democrats first voted against McConnell's initial proposal in procedural votes on Sunday, and again on Monday. Republicans currently have a razor-thin majority of 48 to 47 in the Senate, as five Republican senators are in self-quarantine. The procedural motion required 60 votes to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor.

After lengthy negotiations at the Capitol that stretched late into the night, Mnuchin was back on Capitol Hill for talks Tuesday morning.

"We're looking forward to closing a bipartisan bill today. The president wants us to get this done today," he said, adding that he had spoken to President Trump twice earlier in the morning. "We're down to a small number of issues and we look forward to a successful vote."

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland and acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, walks to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Patrick Semansky / AP

One of the biggest sticking points for Democrats was a seeming lack of oversight for big businesses receiving a loan from a $500 billion fund. Under McConnell's proposal, Mnuchin would control the fund and have the discretion to conceal the names of companies receiving federal funds for six months.

Coons told reporters Tuesday that Mnuchin has now agreed that the names of businesses receiving loans from the fund would be disclosed within 72 hours.

"There are now provisions for an Oversight Accountability Board. There is funding for that board," Coons said. "And there is a provision for prompt public notice and transparency into which companies receive which loans, on what terms. I think that is significant progress."

When asked by CBS News about the lack of oversight of the fund in the Senate GOP's proposal, Mr. Trump insisted he "will be the oversight" at a press briefing on Monday.

Coons also said that there had been progress on negotiations over greater support for state and local governments and for hospitals struggling with the influx of coronavirus patients.

Republicans have argued that Democrats are trying to turn the stimulus bill into a grab-bag of liberal priorities. Mr. Trump accused Democrats Tuesday of trying to implement the "Green New Deal," an expansive package to combat climate change, even though Democratic proposals have not included language about climate change. McConnell placed the blame for the procedural vote failure on Pelosi, who joined negotiations on Sunday.

Around 600 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S., but Mr. Trump indicated Monday that he is eager to reboot the flailing economy.

"Our country wasn't built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this. It was not built to be shut down," Mr. Trump said at the briefing. "We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem."

Nancy Cordes, Paula Reid and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

First published on March 24, 2020 / 10:01 AM

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Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.