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WASHINGTON (AP) — Top-level negotiations between Congress and White House teetered Sunday over a nearly $1.4 trillion economic rescue package, as the coronavirus crisis deepened, the nation shut down and the first U.S. senator tested positive for the disease.
President Donald Trump tweeted "many things to discuss" ahead of an evening press briefing.
At the otherwise emptied out Capitol, the draft aid package was declared insufficient by Democrats, who argued it was tilted toward corporations rather than workers and healthcare providers. The setback sent Republicans back to the negotiating table.
With a population on edge and shell-shocked financial markets poised to reopen today, all sides were hoping for an agreement that would provide some relief against the pandemic's twin health and economic crises, now believed likely to stretch for several months.
"Americans don't need to see us haggling endlessly," Senate Majority Leader McConnell warned, his voice rising on the Senate floor. He wanted passage of the package by today.
However, Democrats said the largely GOP-led effort does not go far enough to provide health care and unemployment aid for Americans, and fails to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion "slush fund" for corporations.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the draft package "significantly cut back our hospitals, our cities, our states, our medical workers and so many others needed in this crisis."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Pope Francis in urging colleagues to "take responsibility" as Democrats prepared their own draft.
While the congressional leaders worked to send help, 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. epicenter: "April and May are going to be a lot worse," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
De Blasio all but begged Washington to help procure ventilators and other medical supplies. He accused the president of "not lifting a finger" to help.
"If the president doesn't act, people will die who could have lived otherwise," he said.
This as the first senator, Republican Rand Paul, of Kentucky, announced he tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Paul, who is a doctor and close ally of the president, said in a tweet he was not showing symptoms and was in quarantine.
He was seen at a GOP senators' lunch Friday and swimming in the Senate gym pool Sunday morning. His office said he left the Senate immediately after learning his diagnosis.
A growing list of lawmakers have cycled in and out of isolation after exposure, and two members of the House have said they tested positive.
In recent days, Trump invoked the Defense Protection Act, a rarely used, decades-old authority that can be used to compel the private sector to manufacture needed medical supplies like masks and ventilators, but said he had yet to use it.
The president tweeted Sunday that automakers General Motors and Tesla were given "the go ahead" to make ventilators and other products.
At the same time, Trump lashed out at the Illinois governor and others for being critical of the response. He tweeted they should not be "blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings."
The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket, businesses shutter and the financial markets are set to re-open today eager for signs Washington can soften the blow of the healthcare crisis and what experts said is a looming recession.
At issue is how best to keep paychecks flowing for millions of workers abruptly sidelined by the crisis, shore up business and create a so-called Marshall Plan for U.S. hospitals — evoking the postwar effort to rebuild Western Europe.
Officials put the price tag of the rescue package at nearly $1.4 trillion and said with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump $2 trillion into the U.S. economy.
"It will get done," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday.
Mnuchin, who was leading a third day of nonstop talks on Capitol Hill, said the plan was meant to prop up the nation's weakened economy for the next 10-12 weeks.
Mnuchin said workers and businesses will get assistance to help cover payrolls for the next 10 weeks; unemployment insurance; and a one-time "bridge payment" of about $3,000 for a family of four.
Hospitals, he said, will get approximately $110 billion for the expected influx of sick patients.
The treasury secretary said a significant part of the package will involve working with the Federal Reserve for up to $4 trillion of liquidity to support the economy with "broad-based lending programs."