U.S. House will have panel overseeing coronavirus aid law expenditures: Pelosi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday the House will set up a panel to oversee expenditures under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law.

Pelosi made the comment in an MSNBC interview when asked about a statement by President Donald Trump rejecting aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

“Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended,” Pelosi said.

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Tempers rise in U.S. Senate as vote nears on $2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, although critics from the right and left threatened to hold up the bill.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told a news conference.

In response, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans do not drop their objections.

That came after leaders of both parties predicted a Wednesday vote.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon (1600 GMT).

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  • Factbox: What's in the $2 trillion U.S. Senate coronavirus rescue package

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

The package will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed 812 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX rallied for a second straight day, closing up 1.15%. [nL1N2BI1YH]

Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval, which could lead to further delays.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring their return, through a “voice vote” that would require only a few lawmakers to be present.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he would prefer that approach and called for its passage on Friday.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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Unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill poised for Senate vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of marathon talks.

“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early on Wednesday.

It was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to Trump to sign into law.

The Senate was due to convene at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), with a vote expected sometime in the afternoon. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

Trump supports the measure, the White House said.

“We’re really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

“We have greatly strengthened the bill and we’re proud of what we’ve done,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,650.

Interactive graphic tracking the spread of the coronavirus: here

The governors of at least 18 states, including hard-hit New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

U.S. stocks were mixed in choppy trading after a strong rebound on Tuesday and a rise in early trading on Wednesday, as optimism about the coronavirus package waned, with investors still concerned about the lasting economic hit from the pandemic.[nL4N2BI46F7]

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so.

If just one of the chamber’s 430 current members objects, that could require them to return to Washington to vote in person at a time when several members are self-quarantining. Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval – leading to further delays.

Trump said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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Mnuchin expresses hope a deal is 'very close' on $2 trillion coronavirus aid package in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package remained stalled in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers haggled over its provisions, but the U.S. Treasury secretary voiced confidence a deal would be reached soon.

Democrats said the $2 trillion measure contained too little money for states and hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses.

A 49-46 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance, as the Republican-controlled chamber remained deadlocked for a second day. Only one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones, voted with Republicans to advance the bill.

Congress has already passed two packages of legislation to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic, which has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home.

Tempers frayed as Republicans accused Democrats of obstruction during a national emergency, but negotiators from both parties and Republican President Donald Trump’s administration continued meeting in private rooms where they have spent days trying to agree on a relief package.

“Why are the American people still waiting? Why are Democrats filibustering the bipartisan bill they helped write?” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Democrats insisted it needed to include more oversight provisions for a $500 billion fund to help large businesses.

Trump was asked at a White House briefing who would provide oversight of how the funds are used, and responded that he would. “I’ll be the oversight,” he told reporters.

Democrats said they thought an agreement was close.

“Take a deep breath. We’re gonna pass this bill,” Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No 2 Democrat, said.

‘VERY CLOSE’

But talks continued.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s point person on coronavirus legislation, shuttled in and out of Senate leaders’ offices.

“I think we’re very close,” Mnuchin told reporters. “We’re trying to finish it up tonight.”

Trump’s administration launched a major push last week for action to blunt the economic impact – and steep stock market decline – from the pandemic, after Trump himself spent several weeks dismissing the virus’ risks.

The Senate measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, such as airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation. But the coronavirus has trimmed their ranks, making it even harder to advance legislation without significant support from Democrats.

Republican Senator Rand Paul said on Sunday he tested positive for the virus. But since he kept circulating on Capitol Hill after getting tested, including an alleged visit to the Senate gym, several other Republicans decided to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure.

Paul said he would not even know he had contracted the disease if he had not ignored recommendations and sought testing. “The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better,” he said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said her husband, John Bessler, contracted pneumonia and coughed up blood after contracting the disease. She said she was not at risk because she had not seen him in person for two weeks.

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