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Talks Continue Over Coronavirus Financial Deal As Democrats Demand Changes

In this image from video, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor on Saturday.
In this image from video, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor on Saturday.

Updated at 10:44 p.m. ET

After a tense day on the Senate floor that included leaders trading barbs over who is to blame for failing to advance a new coronavirus response bill, the top Senate Democrat says negotiations are continuing into the night in hopes of reaching a deal on a third wave of emergency funding that could go well past $1 trillion.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin four times Monday, with the most recent meeting occurring shortly after 8 p.m., a Schumer spokesman said.

"The Senate is going to adjourn shortly, but that doesn't mean that negotiations are slowing down one bit," Schumer said ahead of the Senate adjourning for the evening. "Secretary Mnuchin just left my office. We've had some very good discussions and in fact, the list of outstanding issues has narrowed significantly. We are going to work on into the night."

Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up yet another procedural vote to move forward on the legislation. Two previous attempts failed to advance the bill – one on Sunday and again Monday when Democrats largely held together to try to force more changes to the bill. If there is an agreement the Senate could vote earlier.

McConnell has blamed Democrats for delaying progress on the bill even as Democrats continued to negotiate with White House officials.

McConnell called for the Senate to support a GOP-drafted bill that includes expanded unemployment insurance, aid for small businesses and loans for large corporations, among other proposals.

"The American people have had enough of this nonsense. They're wondering where we are. They're looking to us to solve this problem," McConnell said.

Democrats said the measure didn't go far enough for worker protections and too far for aid to major industries, and had insufficient oversight for the assistance fund based at the Treasury Department for impacted industries.

Late Monday, House Democrats introduced their counter proposal to the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stressed that any final proposal should protect worker pay and benefits and not CEO pay, stock buybacks or layoffs.

A House Democratic aide said the package was valued at $2.5 trillion and focused on boosting healthcare access, unemployment insurance, the healthcare industry and payments to workers, among other issues. Pelosi has not said whether the House would move forward with its proposal. The chamber could take up the Senate bill if more changes are made to it that satisfy Democrats' concerns.

President Trump said Monday evening that he hoped lawmakers would make a breakthrough.

"I think the Democrats want a deal and I think we want a deal. So it would be very foolish if they didn't make a deal. The American public is demanding a deal," he said.

While there is general consensus on key provisions of the package, including small-business loan guarantees and direct cash payments, Democrats want more conditions placed on funds to assist large corporations in order to ensure, for instance, that the money goes to protect workers' jobs and not stock buybacks to benefit shareholders.

Democrats are also asking for more money for hospitals and more generous unemployment benefits for laid-off workers — proposals that, if included, would balloon the cost of the package even more.

Republicans criticized Democrats for "last-minute demands" that they see as not critical to the crisis at hand, such as new collective bargaining powers for unions, increased fuel emissions standards for airlines and expanded wind and solar tax credits.

McConnell argued that Democrats were turning the bill into a "left-wing episode of Supermarket Sweep."

Schumer told reporters early Monday morning that Democrats see this bill as their best opportunity to provide the most help. "This bill is going to affect this country and the lives of Americans not just for the next few days, but in the next few months and years — so we have to make sure it is good," he said.

While tensions between McConnell and Schumer are high, Mnuchin has been an active participant in the negotiations, talking and meeting with Democrats all day Sunday and into the early Monday morning hours.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is going to introduce a counterproposal in the House on Monday afternoon. It's unclear whether Pelosi's move is a pressure tactic on the Senate to reach a deal or a firm commitment to move a House bill. Moving forward on competing legislation could delay negotiations considerably.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., previously announced that he would not reconvene lawmakers back in Washington until there was critical legislation to vote for in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As more lawmakers test positive for the virus and even more self-quarantine because of possible exposure, Congress itself is racing a clock to pass a bill and likely recess for at least a few weeks. While some lawmakers continue to call for allowing remote voting in the House and Senate, both Pelosi and McConnell remain resistant to the idea, which has never been done before, would require votes to change the rules of both chambers and could face constitutional challenges.

In an afternoon speech, Pelosi encouraged the Senate to include ideas from the House Democrats' proposal, which is called the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act. It focuses on direct payments to Americans, paid leave for workers and child tax credits, among other efforts, she said.

"We urge the Senate to move closer to the values in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act," she said. "We must be bold and forward looking in our thinking ... swift and evidence based in our actions, and we must be prayerful."
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