Coronavirus relief bill fails for 2nd time in Senate

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A vote to move ahead with an economic stimulus package for Americans during the coronavirus pandemic failed to pass the Senate for a second time.

Democrats say the largely Republican-led effort does not go far enough to provide health care and worker aid and fails to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations. They voted to block its advance.

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 said from the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter: “April and May are going to be a lot worse.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he all but begged Washington to help procure ventilators and other medical supplies and accused the Republican president of “not lifting a finger” to help.

Trump urged Congress to get a deal done and, during the Sunday briefing, responded to criticism that his administration was sluggish to act. He cited his cooperation with the three states hardest hit — New York, Washington and California — and invoked a measure to give governors flexibility in calling up the national guard under their control, while the federal government covers the bill.

But even as Trump stressed federal-local partnerships, some governors, including Republican Greg Abbott of Texas, expressed unhappiness with Washington’s response. The president himself took a swipe at Democratic Gov. J. B. Pritzker of Illinois, saying that he and “a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News” should not be “blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings.”

The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket and financial markets are eager for signs that Washington can soften the blow of the health-care crisis and what experts say is a looming recession.

Central to the package is as much as $350 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. There is also a one-time rebate check of about $1,200 per person, or $3,000 for a family of four, as well as the extended unemployment benefits.

Hospitals would get about $110 billion for the expected influx of sick patients, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Democrats have warned the draft plan’s $500 billion for corporations does not put enough restraints on business, saying the ban on corporate stock buy-backs is weak and the limits on executive pay are only for two years.

“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “We’re here to help workers, we’re here to help hospitals.”

The president, when pressed by a reporter, dodged a question as to whether his own business would seek federal money.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.