McConnell: US Congress closer to $1 trillion economic rescue deal

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer (R) are negotiating over the $1 trillion stimulus plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer (R) are negotiating over the $1 trillion stimulus plan (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Washington (AFP) - Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday that Republicans and Democrats were "very close" to reaching a deal on an economic rescue plan estimated worth well over $1 trillion as the coronavirus pandemic continued to pummel the US economy.

Lawmakers were in intense discussions on a deal that could inject massive funds into US businesses and the pockets of millions of workers laid off as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.

Some expected the talks to spill well into the night on the unprecedented relief-and-stimulus legislation.

"Everybody is working hard and they want to get to a solution that's the right solution. I think we're getting very close," said President Donald Trump.

"The past two days of intense bipartisan talks are very close to a resolution," McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said in a statement.

"I believe we are poised to deliver the significant relief that Americans need with the speed that this crisis demands."

Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, told CNN late Saturday that he was "very optimistic" that the lawmakers could reach a deal.

"If you can't work because your business is closed for all the obvious reasons, you will get your full pay from the federal government, and this unemployment insurance on steroids will cover all workers" for four months, he said.

The amount of relief being discussed is about "a trillion and a quarter," but could go as high as two trillion dollars, Schumer said.

"Conceptually I think we're there," he said.

McConnell's proposal includes onetime "recovery rebates" of up to $1,200 for most adults, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loan guarantees to crisis-hit industries, including airlines, and to small businesses.

Democrats continued to press for more benefits to go directly to workers who lose their jobs.

Schumer demanded a sweeping expansion of unemployment insurance that would provide furloughed and laid-off workers the same monthly pay that they had before the coronavirus crisis erupted.

He also called for more support for the beleaguered public health care industry, and for state and local governments which he said are running out of cash.

White House officials said the total value of the legislation could hit $1.4 trillion, taking all the extraordinary economic rescue and relief measures announced by the federal government to a massive $2 trillion, or 10 percent of the country's total annual economic output or GDP.

Trump said the bill would spread help throughout the economy, which analysts say faces a sharp recession as business shut down and people stay home to avoid contracting the deadly novel coronavirus.

"We are creating a package that's going to keep companies together, keep workers paid so they can live and sustain," said Trump.

McConnell planned an initial procedural vote on the bill for Sunday at 3 pm, or 1900 GMT, which could lead to a final vote in the Senate on Monday.

The bill would then have to be approved by the House of Representatives, which Democrats control, before being sent to Trump for his signature.