Schumer predicts passage of U.S. coronavirus funding bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that congressional leaders and the Trump administration had largely agreed on a new coronavirus relief deal worth more than $450 billion, and the White House has signed off on a national testing strategy.

“I believe we have a deal, and I believe that we will pass it this afternoon at 4 p.m. (2000 GMT),” Schumer told CNN.

He said the package would include more money for small businesses and hospitals as well as the testing strategy to help states lift stay-at-home orders meant to slow the spread of the lethal respiratory disease.

“We need a national strategy, as the governors have said, to get the kinds of testing that’s done, to get the contact tracing, to make the tests free,” Schumer said. He said Republican President Donald Trump – who has said testing is largely a state responsibility – had agreed.

Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over what to include in a fourth bill to ease the heavy economic toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 42,000 Americans.

Republicans control the Senate. Aides cautioned there was no deal until they announce one.

In the House of Representatives, some Republicans have been arguing with Democrats over whether lawmakers should return to Washington, following Trump’s suggestions that it is time to reopen the U.S. economy.

While Democrats have been been urging the House to allow votes via teleconference, some Republicans insist Congress reconvene.

“We should be here in person to vote. That’s the way it’s been done for 200 years; that’s the way we should do it now,” Republican Representative Andy Harris told reporters. Harris wore a plastic face shield to Tuesday’s brief House “pro forma” session.

A coronavirus deal would end a stalemate over Trump’s request to add to a small-business loan program. Congress set up the program last month as part of a $2.3 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan, but it has already run out of money.

The new package is expected to include at least $300 billion for a small business payroll loan program and $50 billion for small business disaster loans.

Addressing concerns that previous legislation had overly benefited larger, better-connected companies, Schumer said $125 billion of small business funds in the new package will go to “mom and pop” and minority-owned operations.

There will be $75 billion for hospitals, he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that the plan would include $25 billion for testing.

Schumer said Republicans resisted sending more money to state and local governments.

If the Senate passes the bill on Tuesday, the Democratic-majority House could vote as soon as Thursday.

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