Senate debate turns angry as Schumer and Mnuchin try to salvage $1.8 trillion aid package
Senate Democrats again blocked action on a $1.8 trillion economic stabilization package on Monday as talks continued with the Trump administration to resolve differences.
Tempers flared in the Senate as senators and senior Trump administration officials scrambled to strike a deal on a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue measure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats blocking action on the package until they could secure stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses.
“Are you kidding me?” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, demanded on the Senate floor. “This is not a juicy political opportunity, this is a national emergency.”
The extraordinary scene unfolded the day after Democrats blocked action on the measure, which is emerging as the largest economic stimulus measure in modern history. The vote on Sunday evening shook markets around the globe and infuriated Republicans who said it ignored bipartisan talks that had yielded substantial compromises over the outlines of the measure.
The testy exchanges overshadowed an urgent set of negotiations that continued behind the scenes between Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to iron out the remaining differences.
“We Democrats are trying to get things done, not making partisan speech after partisan speech,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, pointing out he had met repeatedly with Mr. Mnuchin and Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, over the last 24 hours.
“Our goal is to reach a deal today, and we are hopeful, even confident, that we will meet that goal.”
Mr. Mnuchin declined to provide specifics, but said the two sides were “very close” to a deal. “We are knocking down the issues,” he said. “We have been working all morning and we are not leaving until we have a deal.”
At the heart of the impasse is a $425 billion fund created by the bill that the Federal Reserve could leverage for loans to assist broad groups of distressed companies, and an additional $75 billion it would provide for industry-specific loans. Democrats have raised concerns that the funds do not have rules for transparency or enough guardrails to make sure companies do not use the funds to enrich themselves or take government money and lay off workers. They also argue the measure would give Mr. Mnuchin too much discretion to decide which companies receive the funds, calling the proposal a “slush fund” for the administration.
As the legislation is currently written, Mr. Mnuchin would not have to disclose the recipients until six months after the loans were disbursed. Some Democrats also objected to loopholes in the legislation they said could allow Mr. Trump’s real estate empire to take advantage of the federal aid.
The Democratic leader told reporters shortly after midnight that the bill as currently written would give bailouts to major corporations without accountability and that it would not provide enough funding to health care workers on the front lines.
Also on Monday, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said that her husband, John Bessler, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Ms. Klobuchar, writing in a post on Medium, said that she and her husband have been in different places for the past two weeks, and that because 14 days had elapsed since she saw him, she was following her doctor’s guidance and not getting a test for the virus while there is a shortage of tests in the country.
The Fed says it will buy as much debt as it needs to cushion the blow for businesses.
The Federal Reserve said it would buy as much government-backed debt as it needs to keep financial markets functioning, and unrolled a series of programs meant to shore up both large and small businesses — a whatever-it-takes effort to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic.
“Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate,” the central bank said in a statement on Monday, adding that the Fed was “using its full range of authorities to provide powerful support for the flow of credit to American families and businesses.”
The Fed this month resurrected a huge bond-buying program — last used in response to the 2008 financial crisis — saying that it would spend $700 billion on Treasury securities and $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt. On Monday, the central bank said it would not limit its purchases, instead buying “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.”
Wall Street fell on Monday even after the Fed unveiled its expansive new bond-buying program. The S&P 500 was down about 1 percent in early trading.
Markets stumbled on the news that a political stalemate in the Senate had slowed a…
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