U.S. Congress eyes next steps in coronavirus response

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three days after passing a $2.2 trillion package aimed at easing the heavy economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Congress on Monday was looking at additional steps it might take as the country’s death toll continued to rise.

Democrats who control the House of Representatives were discussing boosting payments to low- and middle-income workers, likely to be among the most vulnerable as companies lay off and furlough millions of workers, as well as eliminating out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus medical treatment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would work with Republicans to craft a bill that also could provide added protections for front-line workers and substantially more support for state and local governments to deal with one of the largest public health crises in U.S. history.

Pelosi, the top U.S. Democrat said she does not expect new legislation to be completed until sometime after Easter, which is on April 12.

“We must do more to help our helpers in this moment of national crisis,” she told reporters on a conference call, adding that delays in producing ventilators and medical protective equipment “will cost lives that should not have to be lost.”

Republican President Donald Trump’s administration signaled that it might seek congressional authorization for more funds to a small business loan program.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, has said he was not sure if it was necessary to augment the first three packages totaling over $2.3 trillion with a fourth bill. A spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

But an aide to the House Appropriations Committee, which must provide funding for some of Washington’s response to the coronavirus, said the Democratic-led panel was in the early stages of work on “phase four” of response legislation.

Nearly 3,000 Americans have died and more than 157,000 have been sickened by the fast-spreading virus that causes COVID-19. It has prompted widespread closures of schools and businesses across the nation and thrown millions out of work.

Other ideas being floated were the opening of a special enrollment period on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and steps to lower health insurance premiums, as well as financial assistance to help laid-off workers keep temporary health insurance.

Congress is trying to respond to the crisis even as its normal operations are interrupted, with most lawmakers advised to stay in their home states. The Senate is in recess until April 20 and the House at least until then.

Last week, several senior House Democrats, along with key Democratic senators, called for Congress to take the next step in coronavirus response by ensuring that treatment and vaccines are free of charge for patients. That would build on legislation enacted earlier this month providing for free coronavirus testing.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters in the U.S. Capitol on Monday said she was concerned about Congress failing to address mental health problems that could stem from the faltering economy, coupled with the impact of self-quarantined people living in close quarters for extended periods.

“I’m reaching out to the various shelters in the state of Alaska to just kind of understand what it is that they’re seeing in the near term,” Murkowski said.

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House aims to push through $2 trillion coronavirus bill as holdout insists on formal vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House was poised on Friday to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, with Democratic and Republican aides saying enough members had flocked to the Capitol to override a holdout Republican lawmaker who threatened to delay passage.

Leadership of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods available, and pass it on to the Republican president for his signature.

“Today’s vote is about saving lives and livelihoods,” said Republican Representative Kevin Brady.

But Republican Representative Thomas Massie wrote on Twitter that he did not like that idea and would try to force the chamber to hold a formal, recorded vote. That could potentially delay action.

Lawmakers sat several seats apart from each other, maintaining distance as they waited for a chance to speak. The House scheduled three hours of debate, headed toward a possible vote sometime after noon EDT (1600 GMT).

As the debate unfolded, Massie sat toward the back of the chamber, chatting with other Republicans. It was unclear whether he would speak.

Republican President Donald Trump lashed out at Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander.”

“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” the president wrote in a series of tweets. “…. throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

To minimize the threat of infection due to the coronavirus, the Capitol has laid out special procedures. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.

Congress members and aides said they expected there would be enough lawmakers on hand to push through a vote if Massie demanded one. Republican Representative Greg Pence – Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother – said he had driven from Indiana in the Midwest for the vote, and others from as far away as California were present for the debate.

LAWMAKERS AT RISK

Most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak and would need to go to Washington if Massie forces a recorded vote – which could put them at further risk of contagion. At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

Older people have proven especially vulnerable to the disease, and the average age of House members was 58 years old at the beginning of 2019, well above the average age of 38 for the U.S. population as whole.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law. It passed the Republican-led Senate unanimously on Wednesday night.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 85,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,200.

The Labor Department on Thursday reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

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After Senate vote, massive U.S. coronavirus bill moves to the House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s unanimous passage of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill sent the unprecedented economic legislation to the House of Representatives, whose Democratic leaders hope to pass it on Friday.

The Republican-led Senate approved the massive bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to none late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the Democratic-majority House.

The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Individuals even with bravery and valor are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

It follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The House’s Democratic leaders announced that they would have a voice vote on Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she backed the bill, and was open to passing more legislation if needed to address the crisis in future.

The House Republican leadership is recommending a “yes” vote.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

There had been some debate about whether all 430 House members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14, would have to return to consider the bill. That would have been difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine and several states have issued stay-at-home orders.

There are five vacant House seats.

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U.S. senators look to quickly pass massive coronavirus bill, head home

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2-trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly so they can get out of Washington.

Top aides to President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats announced they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday, after five days of marathon talks.

“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The massive bill is expected to include a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and $150 billion for various healthcare initiatives, including $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 660 people in the United States and sickened more than 50,000, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led states to order 100 million people – nearly a third of the population – to stay at home.

“This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate easily, more so because Senator Rand Paul, a Republican who was the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for the disease.

If passed, the unprecedented rescue package, which Schumer called the largest in U.S. history – would be the third approved by Congress this month to counter the impact of the crisis.

To become law, the measure must pass the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was consulted during negotiations on the bipartisan Senate deal, struck after Democrats twice blocked a measure written by Republicans.

Aides to Pelosi did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her view of the bill.

It also must be signed by Republican President Donald Trump, who said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That worried health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration point man for talks, told reporters Trump “absolutely” would sign the bipartisan stimulus agreement if it passed Congress.

Talks on the deal kept the Senate in Washington as the virus’ impact on the United States increased dramatically. Members of the House of Representatives left Washington 10 days ago.

While stuck in Washington, many senators told aides to work from home to lower the risk of contagion, Paul announced his positive test and a handful of other lawmakers self-quarantined, because they had been exposed to Paul or others with the illness.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser. )

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Pelosi sees 'real optimism' on $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus aid bill deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to reaching a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the two sides had agreed to more oversight provisions of a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit businesses, resolving a key sticking point.

“I think there is a real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” Pelosi told CNBC.

Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, said a deal could come later in the day as he returned to the Capitol for more talks on Tuesday morning.

“We’re looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today. The president wants us to get this done today. We’re down to a small number of issues,” Mnuchin told reporters.

Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

Those concerns appear to have been addressed.

“I’m very optimistic that there will be a deal announced this morning,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on MSNBC.

Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday as signs that Washington was nearing a deal on the rescue package gave a shot of optimism to markets reeling under the biggest selloff since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.

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  • McConnell says lawmakers very close to a deal on coronavirus bill

Trump’s administration has launched a major push for action to try to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic and steep stock market decline, after he spent weeks dismissing the risks.

The Senate is due to convene at 10:00 a.m. ET (1400 GMT).

As talks concluded late on Monday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the two sides were nearing an agreement and he expected that the legislation would be voted up on Tuesday.

Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides had negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Republican-majority Senate and Democratic-majority House of Representatives.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

To become law, the measure must be passed by the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate before being signed by Trump. Mnuchin said he had spoken with the Republican president at least 10 times during the marathon negotiating session on Monday.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people – nearly a third of the nation’s population – to stay at home.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal that also includes $4 billion that would allow states to conduct the November presidential and congressional elections by mail.

That legislation would likely be irrelevant if a bipartisan deal is forged in the Senate.

While details of the emerging bipartisan bill were not available, it is expected to provide financial aid for Americans out of work because of the virus and help for struggling industries such as airlines.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus has affected their ranks, giving Democrats even more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.

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Mnuchin hopes deal is 'very close' on $2-trillion coronavirus aid package in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury secretary and the Senate Democratic leader voiced confidence late on Monday for a deal to be reached soon on a far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package that had been stalled in the U.S. Senate as lawmakers haggled over it.

Negotiators made great progress on the bipartisan, $2-trillion stimulus measure on Monday, but without striking a final pact as they had hoped, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

“There are still a couple of open issues,” Mnuchin said, just before midnight. “I think we are very hopeful that this can be closed out tomorrow.”

Schumer said he thought the Senate could vote as soon as Tuesday, adding, “It’s a huge bill of $2 trillion with many different moving parts.”

They gave no specifics about remaining obstacles, but Democrats have said the stimulus plan originally proposed by Republicans contained too little money for states and hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses.

Two attempts to advance a Republican measure in the Senate failed in the past two days, despite the party’s majority.

In the second attempt, on Monday, the 49-46 vote fell short of the 60 needed to advance, as only one Democrat voted with Republicans.

Congress has already passed two packages of legislation to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic, which has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home.

Tempers have frayed as Republicans accused Democrats of obstruction during a national emergency, even as talks continued for days.

TRUMP LASHES OUT

Republican President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter just as Mnuchin and Schumer spoke, accusing Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of taking an “extended vacation” and then making demands he would never agree to.

“The Democrats want the virus to win?” Trump said in the Twitter post. “They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies.”

Democrats insist any agreement must include more oversight provisions for a $500 billion fund for large businesses, to avoid giving corporate leaders a blank check. Asked about that, Trump responded to reporters, “I’ll be the oversight.”

Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s point person on coronavirus legislation, said he would return to the Capitol at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT) on Tuesday to resume discussions.

He told reporters Trump would like to have a deal and was hopeful it could be concluded on Tuesday.

The administration launched a major push last week for action to blunt the economic impact from the pandemic, and an accompanying steep decline in the stock market, after Trump himself spent several weeks dismissing the virus’ risks.

The Senate measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, such as airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said provisions sought by Republicans would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program due to expire in May.

Pelosi, who has been involved in the Senate talks, also released her own counterproposal, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation. But the coronavirus has trimmed their ranks, giving Democrats more leverage.

On Sunday, Republican Senator Rand Paul said he tested positive for coronavirus. But since he kept circulating on Capitol Hill after getting tested, three other Republicans decided to self-quarantine as a precaution.

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'Dilly-dallying around': Coronavirus relief again falls short in U.S. Senate vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on Monday as Democrats said it contained too little money for hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses.

The 49-46 vote left the sweeping measure short of the 60 votes needed to advance, as the chamber remained deadlocked for a second day.

Tempers frayed as Republicans accused Democrats of obstruction during a national emergency.

“The country is burning and your side wants to play political games,” said Republican Senator John Thune, who angrily accused Democrats of “dilly-dallying around.”

Democrats said they were close to an agreement with Republicans and predicted a modified version would win passage soon.

“Take a deep breath. We’re gonna pass this bill,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who estimated the bill would cost $2 trillion, said before the vote that the two sides were making progress.

“We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already and we’re closing in on issues,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office. He did not give specific.

U.S. stocks fell on Monday as the coronavirus forced more states into lockdown, eclipsing optimism from an unprecedented round of policy easing by the Federal Reserve.

The bill represents a third effort by Congress to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic that has killed at least 428 people in the United States and sickened more than 34,000, leading state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

The measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were also trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus threat has affected their ranks. Republican Senator Rand Paul said he tested positive for the virus on Sunday, and several others have self-quarantined as a precautionary measure. Republicans only mustered 47 votes in Sunday’s procedural vote.

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Coronavirus relief bill slows in U.S. Senate, talks continue

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s drive to pass a $1-trillion-plus coronavirus response bill remained stymied late on Sunday, as Democrats held out for more money to help state and local governments and hospitals, while Republicans urged quick action to give financial markets a sign of encouragement.

Earlier on Sunday, the Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to get the Republican plan over a procedural hurdle after days of negotiations, with 47 senators voting in favor and 47 opposed.

Later on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, announced he would hold a repeat vote early on Monday, only to be blocked by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

In response, McConnell accused Democrats of “reckless behavior” that could further upset financial markets and delay much-needed aid to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

But Democrats held their ground with Schumer calling the Republican plan “a giant, giant corporate bailout fund with no accountability.”

Amid the partisan attacks, Schumer said that private negotiations were making progress. White House legislative liaison Eric Ueland told reporters a “handful” of disagreements still had to be resolved.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shuttled between the offices of the Republican leader and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in search of a deal. At one point, Mnuchin also indicated to reporters that progress was being made.

The negotiations marked Congress’s third effort to blunt the economic toll of a disease that has killed at least 420 people in the United States and sickened more than 33,000, leading governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

Following two successful emergency aid bills, this latest effort includes financial aid for regular Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Democrats raised objections to the Senate Republicans’ bill throughout the day, with Schumer saying it had “many, many problems” and would benefit corporate interests at the expense of hospitals, healthcare workers, cities and states.

The failure of the measure to move forward sent Democrats and Republicans back to the bargaining table. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said that Democrats in that chamber will begin crafting an alternative bill.

Schumer said more money was needed for community health centers, nursing homes, masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and aid to state and local governments.

On the Senate floor, a visibly angry McConnell accused Democrats of obstruction.

“Even if Democrats reverse course tomorrow, the vote they cast today will almost certainly cause more Americans to lose their jobs and more seniors hard-earned retirement savings to literally evaporate,” he said.

Lawmakers were mindful that a failure to reach a deal on Sunday could batter already reeling financial markets on Monday.

But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said that would not rush Democrats into a deal they do not want.

“Markets always come back,” he said.

In a sign of the disease’s spread, Republican Senator Rand Paul on Sunday said he had tested positive. Republican Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney said they would self-quarantine as a result.

At a White House briefing on Sunday, President Donald Trump said he still had hope that a massive aid package could pass Congress swiftly.

“They are very close to getting a deal done,” Trump said. “So I’d be surprised if they didn’t and if they don’t, I think frankly the American people will be very upset with the Democrats because the Republicans are ready to approve a deal. The only reason a deal couldn’t get done is pure politics.”

Vice President Mike Pence said 254,000 Americans have been tested for the virus and slightly more than 30,000 have tested positive.

Trump said he had activated the National Guard in the three states hardest hit by the outbreak: California, New York and Washington.

The Senate bill’s controversial provisions included those aimed at helping corporations, rather than workers, as well as those allowing the government to delay disclosing what firms, states or municipalities had received aid for up to six months.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic candidate to challenge Trump in the November U.S. presidential election, blasted the president’s handling of the crisis.

“President Trump neglected, minimized, and lied about this virus,” Biden said in a statement. “Stop lying and start acting. Use the full extent of your authorities, now, to ensure that we are producing all essential goods and delivering them.”

Mnuchin told “Fox News Sunday” the package would include loans for small businesses, direct deposits that could give an average family of four $3,000, and up to $4 trillion in liquidity for the U.S. Federal Reserve to help businesses get through the next 90 to 120 days.

A Republican-drafted bill seen by Reuters gives the U.S. Treasury authority to provide up to $500 billion in loans, loan guarantees and other investments in eligible businesses, states and municipalities during the crisis.

Of this, up to $50 billion could provide loans and loan guarantees for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo air carriers and $17 billion for businesses critical to national security.

The remaining $425 billion would be available for loans, loan guarantees and other investments for the Fed to provide liquidity to help the financial system lend to businesses, states and municipalities.

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Factbox: Coronavirus hits U.S. Congress, with first cases, quarantines

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first two members of the U.S. Congress have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and at least 22 others have said they are self-quarantining, many because of exposure to the two congressmen, even as lawmakers scramble to pass more legislation to help cope with the pandemic.

Here is a look at some of the lawmakers affected:

WHO HAS THE VIRUS?

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart

The Florida Republican said on Wednesday that he tested positive after developing symptoms on Saturday. That was less than 24 hours after he and more than 400 other members of the House of Representatives crowded into the chamber to pass a sweeping coronavirus aid package.

Representative Ben McAdams

The Utah Democrat said on Wednesday that he had the virus, also having developed symptoms on Saturday.

WHO IS SELF-QUARANTINED?

At least 18 House members have self-quarantined, some after prolonged exposure to Diaz-Balart or McAdams, and others from contacts with people from outside the U.S. government. Not all are still in isolation.

Those who have self-quarantined include Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican, who had had a long meeting with Diaz-Balart.

Republican Mark Meadows, President Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said he would quarantine himself after contact with an infected person at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but he has since appeared at the White House with Trump.

Other House members who have isolated themselves include Representatives Don Beyer, Anthony Brindisi, Julia Brownley, Tom Cole, Doug Collins, Jason Crow, Sharice Davids, Drew Ferguson, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Kendra Horn, Gwen Moore, Stephanie Murphy, Ben Ray Lujan, David Price and Ann Wagner.

SENATORS

At least four senators have self-quarantined, after being exposed to constituents or officials who tested positive.

Senator Ted Cruz

The Texas Republican said on Tuesday he was no longer self-quarantining, after isolating himself after being exposed twice, once at the CPAC conference and then because he had shaken hands with a Spanish politician who tested positive.

Senator Cory Gardner

The Colorado Republican was exposed to a visitor to his office who later tested positive.

Senator Lindsey Graham

The South Carolina Republican, a close Trump ally, quarantined himself after being around an official who had tested positive. He later said he tested negative.

Senator Rick Scott

The Florida Republican announced he was self-quarantining after being at the president’s Florida golf resort with a Brazilian official who later tested positive.

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U.S. Senate to seek deal on $1 trillion coronavirus economic aid package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced emergency legislation to stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, and Republicans and Democrats agreed to meet Friday to seek an agreement.

The $1 trillion-plus package will include direct financial help for Americans, relief for small businesses and their employees, steps to stabilize the economy, and new support for healthcare professionals and coronavirus patients, McConnell said.

“We are ready to act as soon as agreement with our colleagues across the aisle can be reached,” he said on the Senate floor. “The Senate is not going anywhere until we take action.”

A vote could still be days away, said senior Republican lawmaker Lamar Alexander.

McConnell also said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow would be on Capitol Hill on Friday to work with lawmakers from both parties toward an agreement.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats were ready.

“We look forward to working with them to come up with a bipartisan product,” he said. But he stressed any “bailout” of industries must be aimed at helping workers, not executives or shareholders.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in statement the bill did not adequately fund federal, state and local efforts against coronavirus and “contains no funding for first responders, child care, schools, help for the homeless, or veterans medical care.”

The package is the third taken up by Congress since the coronavirus erupted in the United States, killing more than 150 people, shutting schools, businesses and wide swaths of American life, and sending the stock market into a tailspin.

A key plank is direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples below a certain income threshold, along with $500 for each child in the family, a Senate Finance Committee statement said.

The maximum payments would be for those individuals earning no more than $75,000, and $150,000 for a couple, it said. Above those levels, payments would be reduced, and totally phased out at $99,000 for an individual and $198,000 for couples.

The bill also includes $208 billion for industries. This breaks down to $58 billion for airlines, and $150 billion for “other eligible entities,” a Republican statement said. All of this money would be in the form of loans and loan guarantees.

For small businesses, a key Republican constituency, the bill includes $299.4 billion for loan guarantees and loan subsidies.

Under the legislation taxpayers would be given more time to file their 2019 tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service. The traditional April 15 filing deadline would be moved to July 15, the Finance Committee said.

Healthcare provisions of the bill include expanding testing for the virus, hiring more healthcare workers and speeding the development of new vaccines and treatments. The measure would also allow students to defer payments on student loans, Alexander said in a statement.

Trump sharply changed his tone on the risks posed by the virus this week, after long downplaying them, and started talking about sending Americans $1,000 checks.

Not all Republicans were keen on the idea.

“Just a blanket cash check to everybody in America that’s making up to $75,000? I don’t know the logic of that,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said before the bill was announced.

Leaders in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, are trying to work out new voting procedures that would allow them to reconvene without endangering members after Utah Democrat Ben McAdams and Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart tested positive for the virus.

Several other House lawmakers, including Republican whip Steve Scalise, were in self-quarantine after having been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had asked the Rules committee chairman, Representative Jim McGovern, to review how members vote in the chamber.

Congress passed an $8.3 billion measure earlier this month to combat the coronavirus outbreak and develop vaccines for the highly contagious disease.

On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed another $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending.

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