(Updates with failure of Senate to pass preliminary bill on stimulus package)
Washington, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- The Senate failed to pass a key procedural vote on Sunday evening to move forward with a huge stimulus package, thus throwing into doubt whether bipartisan agreement could quickly be found on the measure to provide relief to businesses and families amid the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.
Citing “many, many problems” and “serious issues” with the current proposal put forward by Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the vote was initially delayed to allow more time for negotiations that it “included a large corporate bailout provision with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight.”
Schumer said that the “Democrats want to move forward with bipartisan agreement,” and that they were trying to resolve the differences with Republicans over the bill.
Sixty votes were required to pass the measure, but the final vote on the so-called “shell bill” to be a stopgap measure until a final deal is reached among lawmakers was just 47-47.
Although the GOP holds a 53-47 majority in the Senate, five Republican senators are sidelined at present because they are either in self-isolation due to having been in contact with a coronavirus carrier or – as in the case of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – are in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Earlier on Sunday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he was confident that Congress later in the day would reach an agreement on a huge fiscal stimulus package targeted at small businesses and families, among others, to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Mnuchin told Fox News that he expected the negotiations among both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to be finalized later on Sunday.
He said that lawmakers from both parties, along with the leaders of Congress, have a fundamental “understanding” about the issue, and he added that he hoped the package will be formally approved on Monday.
“To the extent that we need to support different businesses that are impacted, again our focus is going to be on stimulus for the workers and getting money to the workers that are impacted,” he said, adding that “Whatever we need, we are gonna get from Congress.”
He said that he expected, among other measures to be included in the package, loans for small businesses so that they can continue to make payroll and cover basic costs and a cash direct-deposit payment for families, which could amount to as much as $3,000 for a four-person household.
He also said that changes will be sought in the unemployment insurance system.
Last Tuesday, the Donald Trump administration unveiled a $1.6 trillion fiscal stimulus package including sending “immediate” checks to millions of Americans, postponing the date by which taxes must be paid and assisting economic sectors hardest-hit by the coronavirus crisis – like airlines and hotels.
As of Sunday, The John Hopkins University reported some 27,000 known cases of Covid-19 in the US and 347 deaths, 94 of them in Washington state and 76 in New York state.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday that 60 people have died and 8,000 Covid-19 cases have been reported, going on to paint a grim picture about the failure of the US government to deal effectively and in a timely manner with the coronavirus epidemic.
Saying that April will be “worse” than March and May worse than April, De Blasio warned that the “this is just beginning,” speaking about the need for more ventilators and other equipment to treat seriously ill patients, and he added that because of the lack of this equipment people will begin to die who otherwise would not do so.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said Saturday that 6,000 more ventilators would be purchased for New York City hospitals, of the total of 30,000 that he estimates the state needs, and a million N95 facemasks will be supplied to equip health personnel.
Meanwhile, in Florida the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased to 830 on Sunday, with 13 people having died, the state health department reported.
The southern, heavily populated counties of Broward and Miami-Dade have 180 and 177 cases, respectively, and have been the districts hardest-hit by the pandemic, according to state health authorities, which publishes two reports each day on the situation.