Senate aims to approve more small-business aid on Thursday

Senate leadership is moving quickly to approve additional aid for small businesses, which have been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, after a rocky rollout last week of the program aimed at helping them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he is working with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinShutdown clash looms after Democrats unveil spending bill Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerJacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee CNN's Toobin: Democrats are 'wimps' who won't 'have the guts' to add Supreme Court seats Republican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' MORE (D-N.Y.) to approve additional funding later this week.

"Congress needs to act with speed and total focus to provide more money for this uncontroversial bipartisan program. I will work with Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday," McConnell said in a statement.

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A spokesman for Schumer said the Democratic leader "has not heard from" McConnell, and that Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help MORE (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, has not heard from Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMurky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Florida senators pushing to keep Daylight Savings Time during pandemic MORE (R-Fla.), the committee chairman. 

The comments come after Rubio said the two Senate leaders were working on passing more funding.

"[McConnell] is working with @SenSchumer & hopes to approve additional funding by voice vote during the Senate’s pro forma session this week," he tweeted. 

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Congress included $350 billion in potentially forgivable small-business loans in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that passed late last month. The Paycheck Protection Program provides loans for businesses with up to 500 employees. Funding could be turned into a grant, meaning it wouldn't have to be repaid, if it's used for expenses like payroll and rent and the business retains its employees.

The rollout of the program was rife with stumbling blocks, including confusion about the requirements for applying for the federal aid and a surge in applications that threatened to overwhelm the system.

Bank of America said Monday it had received more than 178,000 applications worth almost $33 billion, which is about 9.4 percent of the total available in the program.

The high level of interest has prompted chatter within the administration and lawmakers about needing to quickly approve more funding. 

"It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry. That cannot happen. Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in just the last two weeks. This is already a record-shattering tragedy and every day counts," McConnell said.

Senators are currently dispersed across the country as part of a three-week recess. But the Senate is scheduled to hold a brief session on Thursday, where a single senator could try to pass the additional small-business funding. Under the Senate's rules any one senator could object to the additional money passing by unanimous consent. It wasn't immediately clear if a member would return to Washington to block the new funding.

Mnuchin confirmed in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon that the Treasury Department will ask for an additional $250 billion for the small business program.

"At the direction of President @realDonaldTrump, I've spoken with @senatemajldr, @SenSchumer, @SpeakerPelosi, and @GOPLeader to secure an additional $250 billion for the #PPPLoan program to make sure small businesses get the money they need!" he tweeted.

But Rubio said in a tweet that the program would need an additional $200 billion to $250 billion.

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"Have asked @USTreasury⁩ to make formal request for more money for #PPP today. Program still having some problems,but steadily improving. This trend will continue & at current pace funds could exhaust MUCH SOONER than anyone anticipated," he said. 

If the funding passes the Senate on Thursday, it would still need to clear the House. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy's Democratic challenger to launch first TV ad highlighting Air Force service as single mother Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill MORE (R-Calif.) said on Tuesday that he's discussed the Treasury's forthcoming request with Mnuchin. 

"I support the Secretary's request and following the Senate's approval, the House should move swiftly to do the same and provide confidence to small businesses," he said in a statement. 

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Pelosi noted during a CNN interview Tuesday afternoon that Mnuchin called her earlier and said that he would be requesting more funding for small businesses.

The Paycheck Protection Program "really needs money right away. We know that because of the demand," Pelosi said, adding, however, that Democrats will want "certain considerations" to make sure the program doesn't "solidify inequality in how people have access to capital."

--This report was updated at 2:18 p.m.