U.S. coronavirus economic rescue talks continue as Trump appears to waffle on shutdown

Top Trump administration officials and congressional leaders struggled Monday to finalize a nearly $2 trillion US economic rescue package as the coronavirus crisis deepened, even as President Donald Trump seemed to suggest he had qualms about extending the current 15-day suggested shutdown.

“I didn’t expect to be starting off my week with such a dire message for America,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on CBS This Morning, as he warned the numbers will get worse this week. “Things are going to get worse before they get better. We really need everyone to understand this … and lean into what they can do to flatten the curve.”

Only hours before the surgeon general’s dire warning, Trump suggested that the remedies may be more harmful than the outbreak in a tweet that contradicted the advice of medical experts across the nation.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he wrote, adding: “At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”

Trump officials and congressional leaders, meanwhile, were to resume talks at 9 a.m. ET after working through the night on the massive economic rescue plan. Democrats had derailed the plan Sunday night, arguing it was tilted toward corporations and did too little to help workers and health-care providers.

U.S. can’t afford ‘game of chicken,’ McConnell says

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin exited the Capitol just before midnight and struck an optimistic note: “We’re very close,” he said, noting that negotiators would work through the night.

“Our nation cannot afford a game of chicken,” warned Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his voice rising on the Senate floor Sunday night. His goal is to vote Monday. The Senate will reconvene at noon.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer also sounded an optimistic note.

“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.

“There were some serious problems with the bill leader McConnell laid down. Huge amounts of corporate bailout funds without restrictions or without oversight — you wouldn’t even know who is getting the money. Not enough money for hospitals, nurses, PPE, masks, all the health-care needs. No money for state and local government, many of whom would go broke. Many other things.”

But Schumer said they were making progress in dealing with those issues. “We’re getting closer and closer. And I’m very hopeful, is how I’d put it, that we can get a bill in the morning.”

More help from Federal Reserve

On the economic front, the Federal Reserve announced Monday it will lend to small and large businesses and local governments as well as extend its bond buying programs as part of a series of sweeping steps to support the flow of credit through an economy ravaged by the viral outbreak.

The Fed said it will set up three new lending facilities that will provide up to $300 billion US by purchasing corporate bonds, buying a wider range of municipal bonds and purchasing asset-backed securities.

It also says it will buy an unlimited amount of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities in an effort hold down interest rates and ensure those markets function smoothly.

With a population on edge and shell-shocked financial markets poised for the new work week, Washington laboured under the size and scope of the rescue package that’s more ambitious than any in recent times — larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.

Democrats say the largely GOP-led effort did not go far enough to provide health care and worker aid and fails to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion US “slush fund” for corporations. They voted to block its advance.

Democrats won a concession — to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. The jobless pay also extends to self-employed and so-called gig workers.

A cyclist rides his bicycle down the middle of a main road in downtown New York on Sunday. The city’s mayor prepared to order residents to remain behind closed doors in an attempt to slow a pandemic that has swept across the globe and threatened to make the city of 8.5 million one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hot spots. (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)

Alarms were being sounded from coast to coast about the wave of coronavirus cases about to crash onto the nation’s health system.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had dire, urgent news from the pandemic’s U.S. epicentre: “April and May are going to be a lot worse,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He all but begged Washington to help procure ventilators and other medical supplies and accused the Republican president of “not lifting a finger” to help.

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