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Business Roundtable presses Congress for more COVID-19 stimulus

Business Roundtable presses Congress for more COVID-19 stimulus
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The Business Roundtable urged Congress to work through partisan differences on stalled COVID-19 relief bill negotiations, saying it was key to the economic recovery.

“Business Roundtable urges the Administration and Congress to come back to the negotiating table and pass more legislation to further ease the economic challenges American workers, small businesses and suppliers are experiencing,” said Doug McMillon, who is both chairman & CEO of Walmart and currently serves as chairman of the business group. 

The Business Roundtable is a association of chief executives of major U.S. companies.

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Talks over the fifth COVID-19 relief package that began in earnest in July have stalled, allowing a slew of key programs and benefits from earlier relief packages to expire, including expanded unemployment benefits and a small business loan program.

Democrats, who passed a $3 trillion package in May, say the talks cannot continue until Republicans agree to a roughly $2 trillion compromise. Republicans negotiators have not been willing to go that far, with the Senate GOP as a whole only agreeing to a $600 billion "skinny" bill.

Among the most contentious remaining issues is how much money should be set aside for state and local governments.

The failure to push a deal through nearly two months after many benefits expired has begun to weigh on markets, which have seen a steady decline in September.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been pushing for further stimulus aid in a series of Congressional hearings this week, though he has not weighed in on precisely how much the government should spend.

The BRT's statement coincides with the release of its quarterly CEO outlook survey, which found that 76 percent don't expect their businesses to recover this year.

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Just 24 percent said conditions were unaffected, already recovered, or were expected to recover by year's end. Another 40 percent said it would take until 2021, and another 36 percent expected a full recovery only in 2022.

The quarterly survey found a marked uptick in sentiment from the second quarter, when the pandemic hit hardest. The overall index measuring CEOs' business outlooks rose to 64, up 29.7 from the historically bad second quarter, but well below the historical average.

Measures on hiring, capital expenditures and sales remain showed similar trends. 

“The outlook of Business Roundtable CEOs has improved, due in part to actions taken by policymakers earlier this year to help Americans,” said BRT President and CEO Joshua Bolten.

“But further major support from the federal government is necessary to prevent economic recovery from being derailed. Failure to act, along with the lack of comprehensive and coordinated efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, would impose long term damage on the U.S. economy, hurting most the workers and small businesses least able to absorb the blow,” he added.

CEOs seemed more optimistic about the overall economy than other forecasters. They estimated that the economy would shrink by 2.4 percent this year, while the Federal Reserve estimated 3.7 percent.