Congress homes in on huge package to save virus-hit US economy

Washington (AFP) –


US lawmakers closed in on a deal Tuesday to help save the teetering economy by injecting nearly $2 trillion into pockets of struggling Americans, devastated businesses and hospitals struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

With the Senate failing on multiple occasions in recent days to advance a massive but controversial Republican-led package, the pressure has soared to swiftly reach a compromise agreement that provides relief for hundreds of millions of Americans.

President Donald Trump called for an immediate resolution to the stalemate.

"Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today," he said on Twitter.

"The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!"

US stocks, which have shed one third of their value since the crisis hit US shores in February, soared early Tuesday on the prospects of a deal that could send checks potentially amounting to more than $3,000 for a family of four directly to millions of Americans.

Democrats rejected the original Republican package, arguing it put the priorities of corporations ahead of workers, including health professionals on the front lines of the battle against a pandemic that has killed nearly 600 Americans.

But a sense of optimism mixed with urgency in the halls of the Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday after days of intense negotiations between Republicans, Democrats and Trump administration officials.

"We are very close," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told members.

"It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here," the top Republican added. "I hope today is the day this body will get it done."

"We're all optimistic," added centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin on Fox News, saying he expected a reworked text of the bill "sometime today" after finalizing some changes.

"Hopefully they'll get past that and are drafting the bill as we speak."

Any relief package that passes the Senate will need to clear the Democratic-led House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence it could be done quickly.

"I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours," the powerful California Democrat told CNBC.

"I think the Senate Democrats have moved the bill to a place where the leverage is more fairly distributed between employers and workers."