Lobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill

Lobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill
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Business groups are taking stock of what’s in, and what’s out, of the GOP coronavirus relief bill as they turn their focus to lobbying Democrats in an effort to retain key provisions or add others back into a final measure.

The hard-hit travel and retail industries praised the Senate GOP legislation, though others, like restaurant groups and child care providers, say the package that’s being negotiated now with Democratic leaders wouldn’t go far enough to help them survive the coronavirus recession.

The stakes are high for trade groups as they fight for a piece of what’s likely to be the last major COVID-19 relief bill for months.

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The Senate GOP proposal includes $10 billion for airports, which is just under the $13 billion they requested.

“The additional $10 billion in emergency relief put forward ... has bipartisan support and would help airports offset some of the financial strains put on the industry as they face increased costs to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to meet their substantial debt obligations,” Kevin M. Burke, CEO of the Airports Council International-North America, said in a statement.

The industry is estimating it will lose $23 billion this year due to the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on travel.

The U.S. Travel Association, which represents the industry more broadly, praised the GOP proposal for both the funding and for expanding the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to include nonprofit and quasi-governmental tourism marketing organizations.

The $3 trillion House-passed HEROES Act, which Senate Republicans declined to take up, would extend the PPP to nonprofit tourism marketing organizations but not quasi-government tourism groups.

U.S. Travel has been pushing for an expansion to those two groups ever since the businesses were left out of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March that established the PPP.

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But U.S. Travel didn’t get everything it asked for. The GOP package does not include $10 billion in federal grants to promote safe travel practices to help the meetings, events and trade show industries.

Another travel group, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, applauded the bill for the liability protections it would provide to businesses, as well as the extra round of PPP loans.

The GOP package calls for new PPP loans that would focus on the hardest-hit small businesses by limiting it to places with no more than 300 employees, down from the 500-worker limit earlier this year.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation (NRF) were among those welcoming the liability protections, with the NRF also praising tax credits for retaining workers and maintaining a safe workplace.

“The package includes critical tax provisions that will help offset the enormous costs of personal protective equipment and allow more businesses to utilize the enhanced employee retention credit,” David French, NRF senior vice president for government relations, said in a statement.

But the NRF said the package lacks provisions the industry needs to bounce back from the pandemic. NRF had been pushing for allowing businesses to monetize their net operating losses in the current tax year.

The National Restaurant Association said that while it’s pleased to see the new round of PPP loans, it will lobby Congress to remove a provision that would limit the loans to businesses that have lost at least 50 percent of their revenue compared to a previous year’s quarter. That will be an uphill battle, though, since both the GOP and Democratic measures include that restriction.

“With such tight profit margins, a restaurant that loses just 30 percent revenue is likely to face bankruptcy,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs, told The Hill. “Now that negotiations are beginning in earnest and both sides are saying 50 percent, it’s clear that the time for activation is now. The way it is written right now will deny federal assistance to tens of thousands of restaurants at a time when the industry is at its weakest.”

The association also lobbied for a $240 billion restaurant-specific recovery fund, which is not on the table for this bill.

The GOP package, however, includes a provision from Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Revered civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol GOP plan would boost deduction for business meals MORE (R-S.C.) that would allow a 100 percent deduction for business meals through 2020, up from 50 percent, as a way to boost the industry.

“It’s absolutely an important piece of the overall recovery plan, but we first need to make sure that restaurants can keep their doors open, and that’s going to require changes to PPP,” Kennedy said.

The Independent Restaurant Association, which has been pushing for Congress to establish a $120 billion fund, also said the Republican bill is insufficient.

The group said the PPP changes were a “good start, but independent restaurants don’t need another loan when we are accumulating more debt and taking on more losses due to circumstances out of our control.”

Another hard-hit industry — child care workers — was disappointed with the Republican legislation.

The First Five Years Fund (FFYF), which advocates for the child care industry, had called for $50 billion in government aid. The GOP bill would instead provide $15 billion.

But FFYF has another avenue for possibly securing those funds. The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the Child Care Is Essential Act, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroCoronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding Lobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Public health groups denounce new Trump move sidelining CDC MORE (D-Conn.), which would meet the $50 billion price tag through a stabilization fund.

“If Congress wants America’s economic recovery to succeed then lawmakers can’t allow the child care industry to fail,” a spokesperson for the group told The Hill. “It is incumbent upon Congressional leaders at the negotiating table to include the highest number possible — well above $15 billion. $50 billion is the dream. Saving the child care industry is the minimum.”