The U.S. Senate is scrambling to complete a $1 trillion agreement to provide relief to the economy and workers, as bipartisan negotiators try to strike a deal by midnight Friday to again respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once senators reach an agreement, their staff is expected to work through the night and all day Saturday to prepare legislation for a vote – potentially on Sunday or Monday.
“The Senate needs and expectations are perfectly clear: Workers, families, small businesses and the foundations of our economy itself need swift action and in the Senate swift means bipartisan,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday.
Senate Republicans introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, on Thursday, which would send $500 billion of checks to split up among millions of Americans, and provide relief for small businesses and their employees, take steps to stabilize the economy and protect jobs, as well as support healthcare professionals and patients who are fighting the novel coronavirus.
House Republicans have signaled their support for the CARES Act, but Democrats argue the GOP bill does not do enough to address the working class as millions of people file for unemployment amid the pandemic.
“Both parties in Congress must work together, as swiftly as possible, to get something done that is as big and bold as possible. This is one of the worst crises America has faced. The American people need help fast,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We are all eager to work in a bipartisan way to quickly get another bill to the president’s desk, but at the moment the McConnell bill is inadequate.”
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the phone with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in an effort to negotiate a bipartisan product that can quickly pass both chambers of Congress.
Mnuchin and other White House aides spent part of Friday on Capitol Hill discussing the package with senators.
On the Senate floor Friday, Schumer said that the GOP pitch “does not do nearly enough to address the public health crisis,” citing aid for hospitals, medical supplies, beds, doctors and nurses and legislation to make coronavirus treatment affordable. Democrats also complain that the Senate Republican proposal favors corporations over workers and families.
Senior Senate Democrats and Republicans met earlier Thursday to begin a bipartisan dialogue, Schumer said, adding that his caucus would soon submit its own proposal. Beyond addressing the public health crisis, he called for the deal to increase unemployment insurance, expand sick leave, and provide help for small businesses and the workforce.
“Democratic ranking members are already discussing these priorities with their Republican counterparts,” he said. “What we must do in the next few days is unlike anything any of us has done in our time in Congress. This is a crisis without modern precedent. We are going to have to flex some muscles that may have atrophied. We are going to have to cooperate in ways that we may not be accustomed to. We are going to have to work across the aisle and across the span of this Capitol to produce momentous legislation in the span of a few days.
“We will do it because we must do it,” he continued. “The American people are suffering. Our businesses are shuttered. Our factories lie idle. Our workers are without work. Let us come together and do what’s necessary to protect the American people in this time of historic challenge.”
Once the measure clear the Senate, the bill would then need to go to the House, which plans to meet for legislative business on Tuesday.