Congress is closing in on a massive coronavirus stimulus deal

Democrats and Republicans are closing in on a massive stimulus package to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told CNBC on Tuesday morning that there is “real optimism” Congress can clinch a pact within a few hours. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., later said the bill is at the “five-yard line.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrived at Capitol Hill just after 9 a.m. Tuesday for a new round of negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Just before 11:00 a.m., Mnuchin, Schumer and Rep. Mark Meadows, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, went into Schumer’s office as part of the negotiations, according to a Democratic aide. 

After the meeting, Schumer said on the Senate floor that negotiators were on the “two-yard line.” Issues can be resolved within hours, he added.

He listed a number of changes he said Democrats have secured, including obtaining “unemployment insurance on steroids,” which includes four months of full salary for idled workers. He said the provision would also help businesses, by keeping employees on the payroll during the crisis, so they can reassemble once it subsides. 

Schumer has said that the Democrats’ “two main issues: workers first and a ‘Marshall Plan’ for hospitals are very strongly in the bill.”

Democrats appear on track to secure $25 billion more for hospitals, staff and equipment, a Democratic aide told CNBC, cautioning that terms may still change.

Still, Schumer implied that negotiations continue around the $500 billion fund that Republicans have proposed to support distressed companies.  Democrats have argued the fund gives the Treasury too much discretion. 

“We’ve been fighting very hard that any bailout fund − money to industries that have trouble − have real oversight and transparency,” Schumer said.

“We’ve been pushing hard that any contract the federal government makes with the company to give it loans, that we know of that contract in a very short period of time so that we can examine it ” he said. “Because we all know there was a load of dissatisfaction with TARP,” he added. 

Democrats are pushing for an inspector general and congressional oversight board to oversee the fund.  CNBC earlier reported that Mnuchin had agreed to more fund oversight. 

Pelosi said Tuesday she was “very happy” it appeared the Senate had taken some of her suggestions on fund oversight.

Schumer also said Democrats were making “very good progress” in their efforts to add “incentive or mandate” for companies receiving federal loans or grants to keep their employees. 

According to NBC News, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said the bill would include, among other items:

  • Immediate $2,400 checks for married couples and $500 per child
  • $350 billion for small businesses to set aside for payroll to keep people working

Major U.S. stock indexes climbed more than 5% on Tuesday as optimism about a deal rose.

President Donald Trump had taken to Twitter earlier in the day to press for a deal. “Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today,” he tweeted Tuesday morning. “The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy.”

The Senate reconvened at 10 a.m. ET. No vote had yet been scheduled.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks in a hallway at the U.S. Capitol March 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

Airline aid

Lawmakers are now considering providing at least some of the aid to airlines, among the hardest hit companies from the crisis, in the form of cash grants, according to a person familiar with the matter. A Senate aide cautioned, though, the terms are still being negotiated and could change. 

Cash grants would be a victory for airline executives who were pleading with lawmakers to have half of the aid come in the form of cash grants, not just loans, which Republican senators had originally proposed. Labor leaders and executives have argued that saddling companies in debt through loans would make recovery even harder. U.S. airlines employ some 750,000 people.

Carriers have been racing to cut costs, grounding hundreds of planes and asking thousands of workers to take unpaid leave. Airlines are also tapping credit lines to shore up cash to weather the crisis, the impact of which they say is worse than 9/11.

U.S. airlines’ lobbying group, Airlines for America, said the industry would commit to not furlough employees through Aug. 31 if they received grants.

Some hurdles cleared

The Senate GOP’s bill failed to clear a key procedural hurdle Monday after a similar result Sunday. Republicans accused Democrats of causing unnecessary delay by focusing on issues outside the economic crisis facing the country, like giving more bargaining power to unions, increasing fuel emissions standards for airlines, and wind and solar tax credits.

Democrats, on the other hand, said Republicans had originally prioritized funding big business over protecting workers and communities. 

Any deal the GOP-controlled Senate comes to ultimately needs to be passed by the Democratic-led House, too. Pelosi on Monday released her own $2.5 trillion proposal, which, while unlikely to become law, gave an indication of her priorities. The Democratic measure would add stringent restrictions to any company receiving federal aid, including worker representation on boards, and maintaining workforce levels and worker pay. It also called for $37 billion in grants for airline workers and  $3 billion in grants to ground support and catering contractors. Hundreds of catering and airport concession workers have already been laid off.

It is possible Pelosi, who has been talking with Schumer, could push for more changes to the Senate bill before giving it the go-ahead.

Pelosi said Tuesday morning if the parties can compromise and have “unanimous consent” the bill can move quickly.

“If we don’t have unanimous consent,” she said, “my two options with my members is: we can call them back to vote to amend this bill, or to pass our own bill and then go to conference with that.”

She added: “The easiest way to do that is to put aside some of our concerns for day and get this done … but if it has poison pills in it, and they know certain things are a poison pill, then they don’t want unanimous consent.”

The bill in discussion has a price tag of well over $1 trillion, and could potentially hit $2 trillion. The effort has taken on urgency as hospitals, workers, people and companies have all pleaded they need cash quickly to cope with the crushing economic impact of the coronavirus.

CNBC’s Eamon Javers contributed to this report

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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