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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he is working with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Schumer slams Trump's Rose Garden briefing on China as 'pathetic' MORE and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight Federal judges should be allowed to be Federalist Society members 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 CardinThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Schumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program MORE (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, has not heard from Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Trump asserts his power over Republicans National security adviser says foreign powers trying to exploit US race relations 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 McCarthyTop GOP lawmakers invite Blue Dogs to meet with China Task Force over coronavirus probe Key races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers 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.