McConnell himself was hopeful about the prospects for an agreement, telling reporters: “I think we’re clearly going to get there.“
The Kentucky Republican has instructed both sides to settle on the terms of the legislation by Saturday afternoon, after failing to do so after more than 12 hours of talks on Friday, splitting on key issues such as how to get financial help directly to Americans hurt by the crisis.
“Basically, we know the general contours of what this is going to look like,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), as he left a closed-door GOP luncheon. “Now it’s just a question of plugging in some of the policy, and figuring out where the numbers are.”
“The Democrats are getting some of the things they’ve asked for,” said Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, ticking off priorities like immediate relief to individuals, protections for health care workers, and shoring up small businesses. “They’re getting what they wanted on unemployment insurance.”
Senate Democrats have been tight-lipped about specific issues but generally said Republicans were making good-faith offers as they attempt to reach agreement.
“We’ve reached a point where the big issues — the really big important issues — are just interrelated, and we can make progress,” added Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of his party’s top negotiators on financial issues.
In a possible sign that negotiations are nearing the end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent part of Saturday flying back to D.C., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters he plans to speak with her later in the day.
Senate Republicans tried to break the impasse on Saturday morning, delivering their latest bid to Democrats on one of the biggest remaining sticking points: Unemployment insurance. The two sides huddled separately as they sought a way to incorporate the Democratic demands, such as longer-term benefits for furloughed workers, rather than direct payments as GOP leaders have pushed.
“I had a very good conversation with Mnuchin and we are making good progress on many of the issues Democrats care about,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Saturday.
Mnuchin declined to comment on the talks, but told reporters that he’s also spoken with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“Everybody’s working very hard,” Mnuchin said just before 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Still, some senators, including Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), wouldn’t commit to meeting the afternoon deadline to reaching a final agreement and producing legislative text.
“This is going to be the largest — when it’s all concluded — relief package in history. So yes, speed is necessary, but getting this done right, so it actually has the effect that we want, is equally important,” Menendez said.
As negotiations progress, the size and scope of the package appeared to steadily increase. The price tag of the legislation is now expected to exceed $1.3 trillion, according to National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow. The total size of the package, including loans from the federal government, would likely exceed 10 percent of GDP — roughly $2 trillion, he said. That would include a payroll tax holiday for small businesses.
During a Senate GOP lunch, Republicans discussed an idea from the Trump administration for possible carve outs for General Electric and Boeing, but several pushed back on it, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
McConnell is pushing hard for a deal, and GOP lawmakers and White House officials warn they will start drafting their own bill if no accord is reached with Democrats by Saturday afternoon. McConnell wants the normally slow-moving Senate to complete work on the rescue package by Monday.
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