Pelosi digs in on next coronavirus bill: ‘We have made our statement’
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said new funds to rescue small businesses amid the coronavirus crisis must include guardrails to help vulnerable populations — the very issue that scuttled the latest relief effort in the Senate just hours earlier.
“We have made our statement,” Pelosi told reporters on a conference call. “There is a disparity in access to capital in our country. We do not want this tragedy of the coronavirus to exacerbate that disparity, or to ossify it — to solidify it.”
The comments came shortly after Senate Democrats blocked legislation, proposed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to provide an additional $250 billion to the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offers easy-access loans to hundreds of thousands of small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrats support the extra funds, but have demanded additional language ensuring the benefits aren’t consumed by larger businesses, which tend to have existing relationships with lenders, leaving smaller enterprises — including those owned by women, minorities and veterans — cut out of the program.
On the Senate floor, the Democrats offered their alternative bill, which also included additional funding for states, food stamps and hospitals and community health centers. McConnell promptly blocked the Democrats’ proposal, pushing the debate to early next week as the sides haggle over an agreement.
Pelosi accused McConnell of attempting a “stunt” by pushing a vote on legislation that had no chance of passing in either chamber. The $250 billion proposal had been requested by the White House just two days earlier without Democratic input.
McConnell argued that the only change being proposed was the amount of funding, not the underlying parameters of the PPP, which both parties support.
“Do not block emergency aid you do not oppose just because you want something more,” he said on the Senate floor.
In the eyes of Democrats, however, that was exactly the problem, since the PPP as initially created included little guidance surrounding the distribution of the loans.
“This was, in fact, designed to fail,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Pelosi noted that while the program will almost certainly need additional funds in the future, only about a third of the initial $349 billion has been disbursed. Several other emergency small-business programs are already in need of replenishing, she argued, but were not included in the latest GOP bill.
“What we offered to do was to sit down and figure out what the numbers are that are needed most urgently,” she said.
Pelosi lamented the racial disparities that are emerging as more data — related both to health and the emergency lending programs — comes in. The next round of relief, she said, “gives us a path to diminishing those disparities.”
The partisan disagreement is not over the size of the PPP infusion, but how and where the money will be delivered. The program provides benefits to small businesses across an enormous spectrum — eligible recipients can have up to 500 employees — and Democrats are concerned that the spoils will go to the businesses on the larger end of that scale, which are more likely to have previous relationships with lending institutions.
Because of the enormous demand under the first-come, first-served process, Pelosi said, “many people who do not have banking relationships were going to be last in line.”
“That’s why when they asked for more money, we said, ‘Well, let’s help everybody here,'” she said.
Under the Democrats’ plan, a portion of the additional $250 billion would be funneled through community banks, credit unions and other small-scale lenders, which tend to operate in more rural areas and might be better poised to cater to businesses owned by women, farmers, Native Americans and other minorities.
“Why couldn’t that go through those community development financial institutions that are culturally and geographically and economically poised to help those with the smallest businesses?” she asked. “This is about alleviating some of the pressure on the banks to do some of the loans that they’re not used to doing.”
Seeking to break the impasse, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is in negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Those talks are expected to run through the weekend and into next week.
Pelosi said she had not spoken to Mnuchin on Thursday, and warned that she, a devout Catholic, won’t be available on Easter Sunday — if Republicans remain resistant to provisions designed to remedy lending disparities.
“I don’t have any intention of spending any one second of Sunday trying to convince anybody that it is necessary to address the needs of everyone in our society,” she said.
“If they don’t know that, if we don’t share that value, they’re not going to get it on Easter Sunday, or Passover, or Ramadan,” Pelosi added. “It’s self evident that we should be doing this.”
Updated at 2:38 p.m.
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