Top Senate Republican sees Monday coronavirus vote, Pelosi plans own bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers sent mixed signals on Sunday about whether they are near a deal on legislation to try to limit the economic toll of the coronavirus, with a Republican predicting a vote on Monday and a top Democrat saying she would introduce her own bill.

"We're working toward bringing this together. I think it's safe to say we're very close," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a news conference after an hour of talks with top lawmakers, saying he expected a Senate vote on Monday.

"We will be introducing our own bill," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier as she left the meeting, while adding negotiators were still talking and that she hoped for a bipartisan agreement.

The bill, Congress's third effort to blunt the economic hit, envisages financial aid for average Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries including airlines.

Among the areas likely to generate controversy are those aimed at helping corporations, rather than workers, weather the crisis, as well as provisions on whether to allow companies to buy back their own stock.

The virus has killed at least 380 and sickened more than 25,000 across the United States, leading governors and mayors to shut schools, businesses and many aspects of American life.

Over the past week President Donald Trump's administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit, after Trump spent several weeks downplaying the virus' risks. Prominent Democrats on Sunday pushed back on the idea of propping up corporate America with the bill.

Earlier, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the White House and Congress would reach an agreement and Republican Senator Pat Toomey suggested there would be little opposition.

"I think it'll be very hard to vote against this," Toomey told NBC's "Meet the Press."

During his news conference, McConnell suggested the differences were just part of the usual jockeying in Congress.

"It's still some elbowing and maneuvering for room as you can imagine, but this is a pretty solidly bi-partisan proposal agreed to by a lot of rank and file Democrats who were involved in drafting it," McConnell told reporters. "At some point here, we'll have to stop and that'll be the bill we vote on and in my opinion that'll be tomorrow."