Deal on fresh coronavirus relief eluding congressional Republicans, Democrats

FILE PHOTO: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before the Senate Banking Committee hearing on "The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., Dec. 1, 2020. Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Republicans and Democrats in Congress remained unable to reach agreement on fresh relief for a pandemic-hit U.S. economy on Wednesday, with top Republicans supporting what the Senate's top Democrats dismissed as an "inadequate, partisan proposal."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said outgoing Republican President Donald Trump supported a proposal put forth by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after McConnell on Tuesday rejected a $908 billion bipartisan package.

McConnell's outline is very close to the legislation that the Senate leader has been touting for months and was rejected by Democrats, according to one Senate Republican source. The plan includes $332.7 billion in new loans or grants to small businesses, according to a document provided to Reuters.

"The president will sign the McConnell proposal that he put forward yesterday. We look forward to making progress on that," Mnuchin told reporters on Capitol Hill.

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer blasted the Republican effort for excluding Democrats, who control the U.S. House of Representatives.

"The Republican leader should not waste the Senate's time on another inadequate, partisan proposal and instead should sit down with Democrats to begin a true bipartisan effort to quickly meet the needs of the country," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. He noted that the McConnell proposal includes liability protection for businesses that Democrats reject.

Adding to the pressure, the two parties face a Dec. 11 deadline to pass a $1.4 trillion budget or risk a shutdown of the government as the COVID-19 crisis worsens across the United States.

McConnell, who has been pushing a $500 billion approach that Democrats reject, began circulating new draft legislation on Tuesday after a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers unveiled the $908 billion bipartisan package.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, that chamber's No. 2 Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday he hoped the House and Senate leaders could agree on a coronavirus aid bill by the end of this weekend that would be folded into the budget package.

"I am hopeful that in the next few days that we will be able to come to an agreement on a bill that responds to the major crisis, at least in the short term," Hoyer said.

The Democrat said such a measure should include money for state and local governments which have been struggling through the pandemic, an idea Republicans largely have opposed.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Sandra Maler, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)

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