Republicans say a final agreement is close on a massive stimulus bill that would ease the impact on workers and companies from the complete shutdown of major parts of the U.S. economy. But key sticking points remain, as Democrats push for more worker protections and conditions on companies that receive bailouts. 

The four congressional leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — huddled with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday for continued discussions on the economic stimulus package.

McConnell told reporters following the meeting the Senate would be charging ahead with a procedural vote Sunday and final vote on the package Monday, and projected optimism about the fate of the deal, saying "it's safe to say we're very close."

"Make not mistake about it, we'll be voting tomorrow," he said. "I mean the wheel has to stop at some point, and I don't want any of you to buy the notion that this isn't a thoroughly bipartisan proposal already."

But while lawmakers are eager to provide relief to hurting workers and businesses, Democrats continue to raise concerns with the massive stimulus package, which is expected to cost between $1.5 and $2 trillion, and knocked down the idea that the measure has broad support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Pelosi told reporters following the meeting there was no bipartisan deal and instead said House Democrats would put forth their own proposal.

"We're still talking," she said. "It's on the Senate side now because that's their deadline for a vote, but we'll be introducing our own bill and hopefully it'll be compatible with what they discuss on the Senate side."

Senators were fine-tuning details on quickly getting cash-payments to American households in coming weeks, checks that could amount to $3,000 for a family of four, Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday."

Another significant aspect of the bill is what some describe as "unemployment insurance on steroids," reports CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes. The idea is to keep paying workers at their previous salary for as long as four months. Unclear is how to get help to so-called gig workers who aren't eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Aid for small businesses would come in the form of a $350 billion package of loans and grants, Cordes said, estimated to keep them afloat for six to seven weeks. 

Mnuchin described what he called "small business retention loans" to encourage keeping workers. "If you're a small business, you'll get two weeks of cash flow to pay your workers. You need to retain them. You'll also get some overhead. And if you do that, those loans will be forgiven," Mnuchin said.

These initiatives, plus aid for hard-hit industries, including the airlines and hospitals, will cost between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion. 

While there is broad agreement on the need for an immediate response, Democrats wants stronger legislative language that prevents companies that receive bailout money from firing workers or using it to buy back shares. They also want restrictions on which businesses can receive bailout money and on executive compensation. 

The economic impact is already clear. Workers are losing their jobs at an unprecedented pace and that could lead to as many as 2 million people filing for unemployment benefits this week alone, according to Goldman Sachs — that would roughly triple the previous high for weekly jobless claims set in 1982, when the country was in the grips of a deep recession.

Pantheon Macroeconomics forecasts that overall U.S. economic growth will shrink 10% between April and June, threatening recession.

First published on March 22, 2020 / 12:52 PM

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