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Under the Gun, U.S. Senate Looks to Strike Deal on Coronavirus Relief Package

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With the coronavirus pandemic in the United States intensifying, Senate Democrats and Republicans will scramble on Monday to come to an agreement on a far-reaching $1 trillion-plus coronavirus stimulus package after a procedural vote to advance the measure failed and left the massive relief effort in legislative limbo.

Democrats objected to the bill on Sunday as being overly weighted toward corporate interests at the expense of healthcare workers, hospitals and state and local governments. Republicans accused them of obstructing a badly needed bill in the midst of a national emergency.

Lawmakers were keenly aware that the failure to strike a deal could trigger heavy losses in U.S. stock markets when they open on Monday morning, with Wall Street analysts and investment managers expecting another rough week.

U.S. stock index futures were down early on Monday over fears of economic damage from the growing scale of lockdowns aimed at containing the pandemic, with the Dow down 3.64%, the S&P down 3.39% and the Nasdaq down 2.79%.

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene at noon (1600 GMT).

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Both sides remained confident that a deal could still be agreed upon swiftly, and President Donald Trump warned a rattled American public would take a dim view of an impasse. “The only reason a deal couldn’t get done is pure politics,” Trump said on Sunday.

The bill is Congress’ 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 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 regular Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Prior to the Senate procedural vote on Sunday, Democrats raised objections to the relief bill, with Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, saying more money was needed for community health centers, nursing homes, masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment and aid to state and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Democrats to stop their “obstruction,” saying it was delaying aid and hurting financial markets. Democrats decried the Republican proposal as prioritizing the needs of Wall Street and corporate America over those of average people.

Negotiations between the two sides, along with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, went deep into night on Sunday. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats in that chamber would begin crafting an alternative bill should the Senate not reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, 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, which will likely keep them off the floor for further votes.

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

(Reporting By Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Arshad Mohammed and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and James Oliphant; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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