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World News

Alleged Maduro accomplice surrenders to US agents, will help prosecution: sources

CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents on Friday remanded in custody retired Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala, three people familiar with the matter said, after he agreed to work with prosecutors who charged him, President Nicolas Maduro and other top officials with drug trafficking.

Alcala surrendered to DEA agents in Colombia and waived his right to challenge extradition, the three people told Reuters. He was flown to White Plains, New York from the port city of Barranquilla, where he had been living.

The White House and a DEA spokeswoman referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment. The State Department did not reply to a request for comment. Colombia’s National Police declined to comment.

The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Maduro, Alcala and 13 other current and former Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism”, the latest escalation of a pressure campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump administration to oust the socialist leader.

Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and his associates of colluding with a dissident faction of the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.”

Maduro, in a state television address, dismissed the charges as false and racist, and called Trump a “miserable person.”

The U.S. State Department had offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to Alcala’s arrest, while there is a reward of up to $15 million for information aiding Maduro’s detention.

The indictment alleged that Alcala and other top officials received bribes from the FARC in exchange for safe passage for cocaine shipments sent through Venezuela.

Around 2008, at a meeting with senior socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and then head of the military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, it was decided Alcala would coordinate drug-trafficking with the FARC, according to the indictment.

Cabello and Carvajal were both charged too. They have previously denied accusations of drug trafficking.

Alcala retired from the armed forces as Maduro took over the presidency in 2013 following his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer.

Alcala later fell out with the ruling Socialist Party and fled to Colombia, from where he has publicly spoken out against Maduro and backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has staked a rival claim to the presidency with U.S. support.

On Thursday evening, after the indictment’s announcement, Alcala told the DEA over the phone that he would give himself up, one person said.

In a video posted on his Instagram account on Friday afternoon, before leaving with the DEA, Alcala said, “Family, I say goodbye for a while. I face the responsibilities of my actions with the truth.”

Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, who was charged with money laundering.

One of the people familiar with Friday’s DEA operation said efforts had been under way to convince other individuals who have been indicted to surrender, but it was too early to say whether that would succeed, as unlike Alcala they remained in Venezuela.

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Business

Wall Street jumps at open as jobless claims raise hopes of more stimulus

(Reuters) – Wall Street jumped at the open on Thursday, building on a two-day rally, as investors bet on more stimulus measures after the U.S. jobless claims surged past 3 million last week, underscoring the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 267.83 points, or 1.26%, at the open to 21,468.38. The S&P 500 .SPX opened higher by 25.73 points, or 1.04%, at 2,501.29, while the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC gained 77.91 points, or 1.06%, to 7,462.21 at the opening bell.

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Business

Wall Street Week Ahead: Fund rebalancing could help buoy stock rebound

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Money managers rebalancing their portfolios to boost equity exposure into the end of the quarter may support the nascent stock rally that has followed the steep coronavirus-fueled market drop.

With the S&P 500 having lost around a third of its value in the recent selloff, investors may need to step up their equity purchases and sell bonds in order to maintain allocation targets.

A portfolio that had stock allocations at 60% and bond allocations at 40% in mid-February may now be more evenly split between the two asset classes, facilitating the need for some investors to shift exposure toward stocks.

“Given the many trillions of dollars in assets that follow some sort of multi-asset class approach, the coming rebalance could well be in the range of a few hundred billion,” Jurrien Timmer, director of global macro in Fidelity’s global asset allocation division, wrote in a note to clients this week.

Funds can raise stock allocations in several ways, including selling bonds to buy stocks, using the cash in their portfolios or putting fresh money toward equities, said Leo Acheson, director of multi-asset ratings at Morningstar.

From speaking with portfolio managers, Acheson said many have not been waiting for quarter-end to make adjustments and instead are revisiting their portfolios daily and adjusting the split between equities and bonds to maintain their desired risk exposure.

“As managers rebalance and reallocate toward equities to get back toward their strategic weights … that would be a support for equities,” he said.

U.S. stocks have bounced more than 17% from their lows this week following unprecedented stimulus measures from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Senate passage of a $2 trillion bill aimed at helping unemployed workers and industries hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. Few believe the volatility in markets has ended, as the outbreak’s trajectory remains uncertain and the economic fallout potentially massive.

Still, the Fed’s pledge to buy billions of dollars worth of bonds, including $75 billion in U.S. Treasury securities a day this week, may be a boon to those looking to rebalance.

“You are buying equities at significantly lower prices than they were and you are selling bonds that are being artificially bid up by the Federal Reserve,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Stamford, Connecticut.

The flows generated by rebalancing appear to have a noticeable impact on asset prices, especially when bond performance trounces that of equities, as has occurred so far in March.

On average, the S&P 500 has climbed nearly 7% over the final five days of a month in which bonds outperformed stocks by at least 10% during the month’s first few weeks, according to Christopher Murphy, co-head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna Financial Group, citing eight such previous occurrences in data back to 1990.

The iShares Core US Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG.P) has fallen just 1% so far in March, against an 11% slide in the S&P 500 .SPX, as of Thursday, though that performance gap narrowed this week.

Pensions, endowments and foundations – overseeing as much as $15 trillion in assets – are among those that often look to adjust their portfolios around quarter end, said Steve Foresti, chief investment officer at Wilshire Consulting.

“All else equal, these institutions are fairly significantly under their target weight to equities, meaning they need to purchase to get back to their target,” Foresti said. “There is no question there is some natural buying and selling around those rebalancing activities.”

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Politics

With eye on election, Trump in high-stakes balancing act over coronavirus response

WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump offered a preview of his re-election campaign playbook last year when he visited the building site of a multi-billion-dollar cracking unit in western Pennsylvania, hailed as one of the largest construction projects in the country.

To Trump, it was a pitch-perfect example of a booming economy.

Except today, the site sits largely empty, after the coronavirus outbreak forced oil company Royal Dutch Shell to halt construction. The project’s thousands of workers are now unemployed, adding to the nearly 3.6 million Americans who filed for jobless benefits in the last two weeks.

The tension between wanting to keep workers safe from infection and trying to get back to business as soon as possible illustrates the fine line Trump must walk as he floats the idea of reopening the U.S. economy in defiance of the advice of public health experts.

Seven months before he faces re-election, Trump must find a balance between trying to stop the economy from spiraling into a severe recession while appearing to act decisively to contain a still-expanding health catastrophe.

Trump has been under increasing pressure to ease back economic restrictions from his Republican base, who consistently have been less alarmed than Democrats about the virus, which has infected more than 85,000 Americans and killed more than 1,200.

A March 18-24 Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 76% of Democrats agreed that the coronavirus is a “serious threat to me and my family” compared with 63% of Republicans.

Many workers at the Shell site in Potter Township, 40 miles (65 km) east of Pittsburgh, live paycheck-to-paycheck and are eager to work. But some are concerned about Trump’s suggestions that the U.S. economy could be re-opened by Easter on April 12.

“If they called me and said come back to work Monday, I would not go. Not until I feel it’s safe for me and the other workers,” said Jonathan Sailers, a 34-year-old union insulator who wraps pipes at the site.

For a graphic on calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates, please click tmsnrt.rs/37bDD2f

BOTTOM LINE

Prior to the outbreak, a soaring stock market and strong employment stood at the heart of Trump’s message that he should be re-elected in November, with the president even suggesting that even if voters didn’t like him, he helped their bottom line.

For the moment, that argument has evaporated.

Trump’s campaign says he is focused both on safeguarding the health and safety of Americans and getting the economy humming again.

“The president is correct that our nation was not built to be completely turned off for long periods of time and that such dormancy would cause a great many long-lasting problems,” said Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster, said the coronavirus crisis is actually an opportunity for Trump but he must handle it correctly.

“If we wind up coming through this relatively intact, I think Trump will get a huge amount of credit from voters,” Wilson said.

Trump has already seen a bump in his approval ratings, by 4% to 44% since the health crisis, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. But the rise is modest for a president confronting a national crisis: Former President George W. Bush’s approval rating shot up by 39 points to 90% in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Gallup polling service.

The numbers have also climbed as Trump took the outbreak increasingly seriously, appearing on television and warning people to stay home, after at first playing down the threat.

If he flips that message, strategists and experts say, he runs the risk of losing supporters, particularly if the death toll continues to grow.

“There’s normally a rallying effect around the president in the early days of the crisis, and Trump’s clearly benefiting from that,” said Alex Conant, a former top aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 presidential candidate.

Delegate tracker and results tmsnrt.rs/2wfM3Yz

“As days turn into weeks and months, the president’s polling position could weaken if people think the country is losing the fight.”

Shell says it has no timeline for restarting construction at the Potter Township site.

In the meantime, workers are struggling to pay their bills, said Ken Broadbent, business manager for a Pittsburgh-based steamfitters union that supplied the project with hundreds of workers.

“It’s still way too early,” he said. “We just don’t know how long this will last. The longer it lasts, the more it’s going to hurt.”

For a graphic on where the candidates stand on key issues, please click tmsnrt.rs/2ughVeT

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Business

Wall Street ends recovery week on a sour note

(Reuters) – Wall Street fell on Friday, ending a massive three-day surge after doubts about the fate of the U.S. economy resurfaced and the number of coronavirus cases in the country climbed.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 915.39 points, or 4.06%, to 21,636.78, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 88.6 points, or 3.37%, to 2,541.47 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 295.16 points, or 3.79%, to 7,502.38.

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Business

Wall Street drops after three-day surge as virus threat intensifies

(Reuters) – Wall Street fell more than 3% on Friday, following the S&P 500 and the Dow’s best three-day run in nearly a century, as fears about the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic returned to the forefront.

The United States on Thursday surpassed China as the country with the most number of coronavirus cases and is expected to become the epicenter of the outbreak.

“We’re not out of the woods yet on the health or economic crisis,” said Eddie Perkin, chief equity investment officer at Eaton Vance in Boston.

“It would seem odd to me if the markets fully stabilize before we get more clarity on the health front.”

Unprecedented stimulus measures by the Federal Reserve and the White House have set the S&P 500 .SPX for its best week in over a decade, but it is still down 14% in March and on course for its worst month since the height of the financial crisis.

The Dow Jones .DJI, briefly establishing a bull market with its gains on Thursday, is on course for its biggest weekly gain since 1938, largely helped by a stunning four-day rally for Boeing Co (BA.N).

But with growing fears of a deep global recession, traders expect more wild swings in financial markets until there are signs of new virus cases peaking and sweeping restrictions placed on entire countries being lifted.

A record 3 million surge in U.S. weekly jobless claims offered the first glimpse of the extent of the economic hit from the outbreak, which has forced several companies to shutter operations and announce layoffs.

“Big questions are starting to be answered, like how bad is the spread of infections (and) how bad is the economic damage,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst for Markets.com in London.

“That is a recovery narrative, not panic, but if a recovery is not as swift as hoped, equity markets will suffer another hit.”

The U.S. House of Representatives is widely expected to clear a $2 trillion bill, aimed at flooding the country with cash to support businesses and families affected by the outbreak, after the Senate passed the proposal on Thursday.

At 10:29 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 916.19 points, or 4.06%, at 21,635.98, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 96.72 points, or 3.68%, at 2,533.35 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 278.50 points, or 3.57%, at 7,519.04.

Delta Airlines (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O) fell between 6% and 9% as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the aid designated for airlines in the package was not a bailout and that taxpayers would need to be compensated.

Boeing shed 11% after gaining as much as 90% this week, as Mnuchin said the planemaker had no intention of participating in the package.

The banking index .SPXBK fell 5.4%, tracking U.S. Treasury yields, while oil majors Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) fell about 6%, tracking a drop in Brent crude LCOc1 prices.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 8-to-1 on the NYSE and 5-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded three new highs and 15 new lows.

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Politics

Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus package to alleviate the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and sent it to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Here are major elements of the plan. Cost estimates are provided by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $290 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year could see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co (BA.N).

Total cost: $504 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

MONEY FOR STATES, HOSPITALS, EDUCATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $4.3 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $30 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service and $10 billion for airports, which are experiencing a drop in passengers

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Suspension of penalties for people who tap their retirement funds early. Cost: $5 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waiving of federal tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $42 billion in additional spending for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion for housing programs

– $45 billion for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– A ban on foreclosing on federally backed mortgages through mid-May, and a four-month ban on evictions by landlords who rely on federal housing programs.

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Politics

Factbox: 'Mr. No': Meet the U.S. congressman who requested a formal vote to delay the coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Thomas Massie enraged President Donald Trump and leaders of Congress by trying to delay a planned Friday voice vote on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue plan, drawing calls from the White House to throw him out of the Republican Party.

Even before the 49-year-old drew Trump’s ire on Twitter, he had been a thorn in the side of both parties for so long that he’s nicknamed “Mr. No.”

“Throw Massie out of Republican Party!” Trump tweeted on Friday.

Massie unsuccessfully sought to have a member-by-member vote in the House on the coronavirus bill, but officials used House rules to deny his request, allowing it to pass with a simple voice vote.

“I came to here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote,” Massie said on the House floor before his proposal was rejected.

“I am not delaying the bill like (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi did last week,” Massie wrote on Twitter earlier. “The bill that was worked on in the Senate late last week was much better before Speaker Pelosi showed up to destroy it and add days and days to the process.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat who is usually diplomatic in his manner of speaking, wrote on Twitter that “Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.”

Trump volleyed back, “Never knew John Kerry had such a good sense of humor! Very impressed!”

Here are some facts about Massie:

– Massie was first elected in 2012 with an assist from the conservative tea party movement, from a solidly Republican district in northern Kentucky along the Ohio River. An engineer by training who had built his own company on inventions he made, he beat two establishment Republicans in a party nominating contest, along the way.

– In his first House vote in 2013, Massie opposed the re-election of John Boehner as speaker. Massie aligned with conservative and libertarian Republicans who formed the Freedom Caucus in 2015, but did not join the caucus.

– By 2014, Massie had voted “no” so many times on legislation that Politico dubbed him “Mr. No.” He opposed about a third of measures that came up in his first year, voting against large and small bills sponsored by both parties, from defense spending legislation to a bill to award a gold medal to golf star Jack Nicklaus.

– Massie opposed many bills on a cost basis. He joked once that the buttons lawmakers push to register their votes on the House floor – which are labeled “yea” and “nay” – should be relabeled “spend” and “don’t spend,” USA Today reported.

But he voted in 2017 for hefty tax cuts promised by Trump, although they were projected to widen the deficit. “It is irresponsible to increase spending and decrease taxes, which is why I consistently vote to decrease spending and decrease taxes,” he said at the time.

– Massie voted twice against the election of former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican. Last year he was one of six Republicans to vote against his party’s candidate, Kevin McCarthy for speaker; Massie voted instead for Republican Jim Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus.

– Sometimes Massie has worked across party lines on civil liberties issues, such as by opposing bulk data collection by the government. Last year, Massie was the only Republican to vote against a measure rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which opposes the Israeli occupation and policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

He was one of three House Republicans to vote against relief from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and one of three Republicans that year to vote against additional sanctions on North Korea. One of the three, Representative Justin Amash, later left the party to become an independent.

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Business

U.S. braces for record surge in jobless claims amid coronavirus fallout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits likely raced to as high as a record 4 million last week as strict measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic ground the country to a sudden halt, unleashing a wave of layoffs.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday is set to offer the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy, which has forced the Federal Reserve to take extraordinary steps and set the U.S. Congress racing to assemble a record $2 trillion stimulus package.

Economists say the economy is already in recession and the jobless claims report would offer proof of that.

The weekly claims figures are the most timely labor market indicator. The report on Thursday is set to grab attention on both Wall Street and Main Street after the Trump administration requested that states stop giving daily snapshots of applications for jobless aid.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, initial claims for state unemployment benefits probably surged to a seasonally adjusted 1 million for the week ended March 21, which would far eclipse the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. Estimates in the survey were as high as 4 million, which would dwarf the 281,000 applications received during the week ended March 14.

“Containment efforts in response to the coronavirus resulted in a very sudden and very dramatic change over just a few days,” said Stephen Gallagher, U.S. chief economist at Societe Generale in New York. “Layoffs were part of that change and applicants appear to have flooded state unemployment insurance offices within a very short time-span.”

(GRAPHIC: Unemployment benefits claims to surge – here)

There were reports of many states saying their employment websites crashed because of heavy traffic.

Governors in at least 18 states, accounting for nearly half the country’s population, have ordered residents to stay mostly indoors. “Non-essential” businesses have also been ordered closed. According to economists, a fifth of the workforce is on some form of lockdown.

Economists’ collection of raw data from states, industry groups and their own models show an unprecedented jump across all states.

Morgan Stanley is forecasting unadjusted claims for California, one of the regions hardest hard by the respiratory illness called COVID-19 brought on by the coronavirus, to have shot up by 550,000. California Governor Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that new filings for jobless benefits there were running at an average of 106,000 a day in the past week.

Claims from New York, now at the center of the outbreak, are forecast to have increased by 210,000, according to the Morgan Stanley estimate. Applications in Washington state are expected to have risen by about 100,000.

With state employment websites overwhelmed, economists say some of the applications that were supposed to be filed during the week ended March 14 were pushed back to last week, which could also account for the anticipated surge in claims.

“In addition, reports from some states also suggest that the process for making claims has been in part shifted to a pen and paper approach, potentially delaying the filing process as well,” said Jan Kozak, an economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. “This means that some of the 3.4 million in claims we estimate might have been spread into this week as well.”

Last week’s claims data likely will have no impact on March’s employment report as it falls outside the period during which the government surveyed employers for nonfarm payrolls, which was the week to March 14. Economists, however, say the rush for benefits in that survey week suggests payrolls declined this month, which would end nearly 9-1/2 years of job growth.

“Jobs will decline in March,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “There are numerous reports of laid-off workers unable to file for unemployment insurance because so many people are trying to file at the same time. Millions of job losses are likely in coming weeks.”

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World News

Tempers rise in U.S. Senate as vote nears on $2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, although critics from the right and left threatened to hold up the bill.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told a news conference.

In response, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans do not drop their objections.

That came after leaders of both parties predicted a Wednesday vote.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon (1600 GMT).

Related Coverage

  • Factbox: What's in the $2 trillion U.S. Senate coronavirus rescue package

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

The package will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed 812 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX rallied for a second straight day, closing up 1.15%. [nL1N2BI1YH]

Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval, which could lead to further delays.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring their return, through a “voice vote” that would require only a few lawmakers to be present.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he would prefer that approach and called for its passage on Friday.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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