Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday

Senators left on Friday night without a deal on a mammoth stimulus package, ensuring they miss a midnight deadline to get a deal in “principle.” 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) established midnight Friday as the deadline for getting a deal on the broad contours of the package as Congress tried to move at “warp speed” amid growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus. 

But senators and administration officials emerged from closed-door meetings on Friday night conceding that there were too many unresolved issues and that the talks would carry over into Saturday. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said as he left the building on Friday that there were still “three or four” outstanding issues.

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, indicated that talks would continue on Saturday.

“We believe there is a broad consensus but there is no deal yet,” he said. 

The chances for an agreement appeared increasingly unlikely as Friday night wore on. 

A GOP leadership aide said roughly two hours before the deadline that “significant progress” had been made, but acknowledged that they did not have a deal. 

“The bipartisan groups have made significant progress and will continue to work through the night,” the aide said.

Roughly a half an hour later, Grassley, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and administration officials acknowledged that they were breaking their meetings for the night without a deal. Grassley and Wyden, who oversaw the working group for tax-related provisions, will reconvene on Saturday morning. 

Congress is under intense pressure to move quickly as the coronavirus has spread across the United States, with more than 19,000 cases and 260 deaths as of Friday evening. The economy, meanwhile, has cratered with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 9,000 points in the past month.  

Though lawmakers missed the midnight deadline, they do appear to be making progress on one of the biggest sticking points: a GOP plan to send Americans direct cash assistance in the form of a check and a push by Democrats to expand unemployment insurance. 

A person familiar with the negotiations said the rebate is likely to come down from the $300 billion proposed in the Senate GOP plan to something closer to $250 billion. It would be matched with a similar increase in money for expanded unemployment benefits, around $250 billion. A second person familiar with the negotiations confirmed those numbers as “on track.” 

Ueland said that he thought “tremendous progress” had been made during the hours-long negotiations on Friday. 

“There’s some technical work that needs to be done overnight,” he added. 

The Senate GOP proposal gives a one-time $1,200 check for Americans who earn up to $75,000. After that it scales down until an income level of $99,000, where it phases out completely. 

Ueland indicated on Friday night that while there was not a deal yet, there was bipartisan support for keeping the check provision in the final agreement. 

“Republicans and Democrats do agree that there is a need for this action and this relief to American people and we’re very gratified to hear that bipartisanship or that bipartisan interest or some consensus that we need to act and provide direct relief,” he said. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to run some of the ideas under discussion by the White House, while Wyden said there were some colleagues that he had been able to reach on Friday night. Trump was being updated on the talks throughout Friday.

“Both sides have some issues that are important priorities that just take some time to check,” Wyden said.

Another outstanding issue that cropped up on Friday was a Democratic request for stabilization funding for states to dip into as the economy worsens. 

The missed deadline comes after senators started bipartisan negotiations in earnest around 10 a.m. on Friday, when they first met with administration officials including Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow. 

They then spent the bulk of Friday behind closed doors negotiating among “subgroups” of the four main areas: tax relief, small businesses, help for impacted industries and health care. 

Senators indicated throughout the day that they were making progress, but that the artificial deadline set by McConnell left them with little time to work out the bigger political and policy snags  

By early evening, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) indicated that they had largely wrapped up their work, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is overseeing the health care-related discussions, indicated that he had broad areas of agreement with with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). 

But the primary focus was on the finance negotiations, spearheaded by Grassley and Wyden, which were the center of the debate about whether or not to expand unemployment or provide direct cash assistance in the form of a one-time check. 

Schumer tipped his hand at the likelihood that they would have to push talks into Saturday

“I think we’re making good progress but I think it’s a big complicated huge bill,” he said. “And … I would hope we could come to agreements tomorrow.”

Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.

Updated: 11:36 p.m. 

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Coronavirus Lamar Alexander Larry Kudlow Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Ron Wyden Steven Mnuchin Susan Collins
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