By Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday were working to find an agreement on coronavirus legislation, after President Donald Trump and the top Republicans in the House and Senate said they didn’t support a wide-ranging bill from House Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted that the GOP-led chamber wouldn’t go on an upcoming weeklong break. The Kentucky Republican said he hoped Congress would “pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus,” adding that he applauded Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for continuing to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat.
Earlier Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican, signaled a willingness to work toward a compromise measure and not go on recess.
“I think we can get this done in the next 48 hours,” McCarthy said at a news conference.
Trump, for his part, accused House Democrats of putting “goodies” in their bill, while McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday morning, had described the measure as an “ideological wish list that was not tailored closely to the circumstances.” McConnell said the legislation could lead to a “needless thicket of new bureaucracy” and “permanent unfunded mandates on businesses.”
The package from Pelosi and her colleagues aims to expand unemployment insurance and provide paid sick leave for people affected by the novel coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19, among other measures. It also would provide free testing for the disease and “strengthened food security,” such as allowing for school lunches to be served outside of the school day.
A spokesman for Pelosi indicated that she had been on the phone at least three times on Thursday with Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s point main on the issue. Pelosi had signaled that the Democratic-controlled House still planned to approve its broad bill on Thursday.
“We’re here to pass a bill,” she said at a morning news conference. “We don’t need 48 hours. We need to just make a decision to help families right now, because we have to operate not as business as usual, but in an emergency status where we have to get the job done.”
The Democrats’ measure, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, “focuses almost entirely on individual-level responses, and in our view is an effort to lay out a marker before negotiations over a final package begin in the coming days,” said Height Capital Markets analysts in a note.
“Even if something passes tonight it will be small ball, and the markets are clearly looking for more,” said Henrietta Treyz, director of economic policy at Veda Partners, in a note. She also estimated that the bill’s price tag was below $100 billion.
The negotiations came after Congressional offices were hit with their first confirmed case of COVID-19 , with an aide to Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington testing positive. The Capitol building and Congressional offices will be closed to the public until April 1.
U.S. stocks /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.12% /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.88% plunged again Thursday amid coronavirus-related worries. The reviews on Wall Street to Trump’s Wednesday night speech on the outbreak were not kind, with analysts criticizing him for blaming Europe and for his proposed “vague payroll tax holiday.”
Last week, Trump signed into law a preliminary, $8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus.