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Capitol Report: Washington works on coronavirus stimulus, with Trump administration calling for $850 billion package

The Republican-led Senate appeared on track to pass a bipartisan coronavirus bill around the middle of this week, after the Democratic-controlled House voted overwhelmingly for the legislation on Saturday and President Donald Trump threw his support behind it.

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, both have signaled that they’re working on broader stimulus measures that could aid Americans facing financial problems because of the pandemic as well as provide a boost to small businesses and other sectors of the economy.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, for his part, tweeted Sunday that the Senate should pass the House-approved bill quickly on Monday through a procedure known as unanimous consent. But analysts weren’t expecting that to happen and instead were anticipating a midweek vote by the Senate.

“The Senate is set to vote on the House-passed coronavirus bill (H.R.6201) this week, though not until the middle of the week,” said Height Capital Markets analysts in a note on Monday.

“The House must make minor technical edits to the bill, and will need to approve these changes via a process called unanimous consent (UC) on Monday. This brief process will delay Senate consideration until later in the week, however, as they must first address legislation extending surveillance authorities which expired Sunday night.”

The bill — which the House passed just before 1 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday — is aimed at providing paid sick leave for people affected by the novel coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19 and free testing for the disease, among other measures. McConnell last week said the Senate wouldn’t go on a scheduled break this week so that it could vote on the measure, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, while the House has gone on recess after its vote.

“There is a risk that the Senate could look to make alterations to the House bill, though we expect that the pressure to act rapidly and the bipartisan nature of the current text will reduce the likelihood of changes,” Height’s analysts said. “If changes are made, the House would need to wait until March 23rd to address them, when they return from the current recess period.”

But it also looked likely that House members wouldn’t get back to work on March 23 as scheduled. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat, reportedly told lawmakers on Monday that they could be on break longer than planned, staying home until it was time to vote on the next coronavirus-related bill.

McConnell said in a tweet on Sunday that he had spoken with the heads of key Senate committees about taking further steps to “directly help Americans” as well as “secure our nation’s economy, particularly Main Street small businesses.” Meanwhile, Pelosi said in a letter on Sunday that she and her colleagues “have already begun work to develop a third emergency response package that will continue to put Families First.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, said he would propose a $750 billion aid package that would get money directly to Americans as well as fund emergency child care, help schools with remote learning and more. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said Washington should send $1,000 checks to each American, echoing other lawmakers and some economists who have advocated for that approach.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Sunday stressed that it’s the role of Congress and the Trump administration to help businesses or workers who are hurt by the broad shutdown of normal day-to-day activity, as the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to zero.

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday because of the novel coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19 that has spread world-wide, in a development that frees up additional federal aid to combat the epidemic. The president and other G-7 leaders on Monday said in a joint statement that they would use all fiscal and monetary-policy tools to support workers and companies most affected by the pandemic.

U.S. stocksSPX, -11.98%DJIA, -12.93% closed sharply lower Monday and have been hammered repeatedly this month by coronavirus-related worries.