House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration hoped to announce an agreement Friday on a coronavirus aid package to reassure anxious Americans by providing sick pay, free testing and other resources in an effort to calm teetering financial markets and the mounting crisis.
Final details were being worked out, but the top House Democrat, who held daylong talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, expected an announcement Friday.
The House could then swiftly vote.
Mnuchin said Friday morning that negotiations were going very well. “I think we’re very close to getting this done,” Mnuchin said, appearing on CNBC.
On the COVID-19 illness, Mnuchin cautioned that “people should understand the numbers are going to go up before they go down.”
Emerging from her office at the Capitol late Thursday, Pelosi said an agreement on an aid package was near. She said a deal was “subject to an exchange of paper and we hope to have an announcement tomorrow.”
Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke again early Friday.
The potential deal between Congress and the White House would cap a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to the outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health care systems.
Classes, sports events, concerts and conferences have been canceled across the nation, and the financial markets have been cratering.
The House aid package builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week and is aimed at providing additional health and financial resources to arrest the sudden spread of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Pelosi promised in a letter to colleagues that a third package was yet to come.
The new sick leave benefit would require businesses to provide up to 14 days of paid leave to workers who are home quarantined with the virus, with the federal government reimbursing them through tax credits. The bill facilitates unemployment benefits for those laid off during the crisis and boosts food and nutrition programs for working families, students and seniors. Work requirements for food stamps would be suspended, and states would be given additional Medicaid funds to cope with the crisis.
“We felt that putting together something that the American people can see cooperation on between the two parties in this difficult moment would be a confidence builder,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-N.J., the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Pelosi promised the third coronavirus package will follow soon, though the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a previously scheduled recess. That measure will include more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.
Democrats and some Republicans oppose President Donald Trump’s proposal to suspend collection of the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax.
Mnuchin said Friday that the president remains committed to the idea. “It is a giant stimulus.”
Disruptions from the virus spread throughout the Washington metropolitan area, as the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court all declared themselves off-limits to the public for now, symbols of a nation hunkering down. And schools in the District of Columbia announced they would close, starting Monday, until April 1.
The storied Smithsonian said it was canceling all public events and will temporarily close its network of museums and the National Zoo, starting Saturday.
Trump said he will halt his signature campaign rallies, telling reporters he needs a “little separation until such time as this goes away.” Democratic presidential rivals Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders said they would no longer hold large political gatherings and their staffs would work from home as the race for the presidency moved online.
The coronavirus crisis also got personal for Trump and some members of Congress.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was in isolation at a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. He returned to Australia on Sunday from Washington, where he met Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, last week.
White House officials, including representatives for Ivanka Trump, have not responded to questions about whether they intend to be tested or self-quarantine.
The White House has insisted officials are following CDC guidelines and that “there is currently no indication to test patients without symptoms, and only people with prolonged close exposure to confirmed positive cases should self-quarantine.”
Barr, meanwhile, was staying home Friday, though he “felt great and wasn’t showing any symptoms,” according to spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She said the CDC did not recommend testing at this point.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, in several television interviews Friday, said more tests would be available over the next week, but that officials should not wait before trying to mitigate the virus’ effects.
“We will have considerably more testing in the future, but you don’t wait for testing,” Fauci said on ”CBS This Morning.” He said school closings and similar measures are “generally an appropriate approach.”
“We’re at a critical point now as we seek to blunt the rise in cases to make sure it’s a hill, not a mountain,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.
In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, about 81,000 people have been diagnosed and about 64,000 have recovered.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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