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By Evan Ryser
     WASHINGTON (MNI) - U.S. lawmakers are edging closer to a fiscal package of
USD1.5 trillion or more as worsening economic conditions offer Democrats pushing
for stronger financial support to households and businesses an election-year
advantage, top political advisers said in interviews with MNI. 
     "The Senate Republicans are saying a trillion and that means a
trillion-and-a-half or two before they get all the votes that they need," said
former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, an outside Trump adviser and member of
the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 
     Concerns about a fresh hit to an already battered economy have ratcheted
higher in recent weeks alongside surging rates of coronavirus deaths and
infections around the country. 
     "USD1.5 trillion is plausible for a final product," said Brian Riedl, an
outside economic adviser to Senate Republicans now a senior fellow at the
Manhattan Institute. 
     Confusion and disgruntlement amongst Senate Republicans this week as
legislators showed wariness of debt and disagreement as to what ails the
economy, has contrasted sharply to the four major relief bills that Congress
passed nearly unanimously in March and April, pumping some USD3 trillion into
the economy to address the pandemic. 
     Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been predicting for weeks that a
new bill would involve "dramatically more controversy and partisanship." 
     With some Senate Republicans already messaging that they will not support a
trillion-dollar package, sources say that Republican leaders may have to rely
more on Democrats than before to push a bill beyond the 60-vote threshold. 
     "There are a lot of Republicans who will not lose any sleep if there is no
bill at all," Riedl said. 
     Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a USD3 trillion package in
May while McConnell has said he wants a bill just under USD1 trillion. He is
expected to put forward a separate Republican bill on Monday. 
     -- NEW COALITION 
     "To the extent that McConnell and Trump have a negotiated deal that is
closer to a trillion-and-a-half dollars, that will likely alienate a lot of
Senate Republicans and force McConnell to essentially give Democrats a lot more
say over the final product," Riedl said. 
     The extent to which McConnell's own caucus takes itself out of the
negotiations, Riedl said, "McConnell will have to make more concessions to run
up the numbers on the Democratic side to get it passed." 
     The Senate Republican package to be unleashed Monday is seen as an initial
negotiating offer and is not expected to provide further aid to states and
localities that have seen over 1.6 million jobs lost and significant holes in
their budgets. Instead Republicans are expected to provide flexibility on to how
to deploy existing aid from the CARES Act passed in March.
     Democrats have pushed hard for state aid and the Senate Republican bill,
sources say, could be topped off with additional state and local funds, as well
as higher unemployment benefits, a return-to-work bonus, or a boost to the
Paycheck Protection Program that supports small businesses. 
     -- UPPER HAND 
     "There is no question about it," DeMint said, "the House Democrats do have
the upper hand."
     The conservative former South Carolina Senator said "it's possible" that
the final Congressional package could be pushed to early August as Senate
Republican leadership faces backlash from fiscal conservatives and Tea Party
members, but added "the President is likely to sign whatever that the Congress
does."
     "The Democrats know that they can stick almost anything they want in there
and it is very unlikely that Trump would veto it with the atmosphere we have in
the country right now," DeMint told MNI.
--MNI Washington Bureau; +1 202 371 2121; email: evan.ryser@marketnews.com
[TOPICS: M$U$$$,MT$$$$,MX$$$$,MFU$$$,MGU$$$]

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