Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next COVID-19 relief deal

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Senate Democrats are negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in hopes of reaching a deal to provide an additional $250 billion for a popular small-business emergency lending program and include in the same package more funds for hospitals and state governments. 

Bipartisan talks are continuing behind the scenes despite a blowup on the Senate floor Thursday morning in which Republicans and Democrats blocked each other’s proposals to shore up funding shortfalls in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told colleagues he’s optimistic about reaching a deal with Mnuchin in the near future.

Mnuchin is negotiating as well with Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Small Business Committee, and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, who were central to working out a deal last month on the coronavirus relief package.

“I’ve talked to Schumer about a dozen times in the last 12 hours and I think he is optimistic that we can reach some degree of comity,” Cardin said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is also involved in the talks. 

Two weeks after Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to shore up the economy, the political dynamic of last month’s negotiations has resumed, with Schumer and Mnuchin doing the bulk of the negotiating and McConnell holding Democrats’ feet to the fire by forcing tough votes — or procedural objections — on the Senate floor. 

Just as before, Pelosi is working closely with Schumer but is letting him handle much of the direct dealing with Mnuchin. 

Pelosi said she had not spoken to Mnuchin on Thursday. 

The Speaker is insisting on changes to the small-business lending program known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to make loans more available to underserved communities, where businesses have found it hard to access funds.

“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,” Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. 

She noted that coronavirus infections appear to be hitting minority communities especially hard.

The Democratic proposal unveiled Thursday morning would set aside $60 billion of the $250 billion requested by the Trump administration to expand the PPP for “community-based lenders.”

They want to direct $45 billion for small community-based lenders such as minority depository institutions, certified development corporations and microlenders and want $15 billion for community banks and credit unions with less than $50 billion in consolidated assets.

Pelosi gave no indication she expects a deal with Mnuchin by the time of the next Senate pro forma session, scheduled for Monday morning.

She said she is urging House Democratic chairs to work with their GOP counterparts on putting together bipartisan proposals.

She said colleagues should use their time away from Washington productively “so that we’re ready when we would normally be coming back or as soon as we come back to proceed.”

Democrats see Mnuchin as more open to striking a quick deal than McConnell and other Republicans who want to wait until June to better assess the impact of the previous three coronavirus relief packages.

“Democrats are fully prepared to give the resources, provided the money is going to get to the intended recipients,” Cardin said. “We’re working.”

“I know that I’m going to be engaged with Mnuchin this week and Sen. Wyden’s engaged with Mnuchin,” he added. 

Cardin said Schumer and Mnuchin “have a pretty good relationship.” He said whether a deal is made depends on “whether [Republicans] want to get something done.” 

“If we can get the administration on board that we will have a much better chance of getting it done,” he said. 

But Cardin added: “Today didn’t help,” referring to McConnell blocking a Democratic request on the Senate floor Thursday morning to provide $250 billion for the PPP and $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments.

McConnell panned the $500 billion Democratic proposal as a non-starter.

“Everyone knows, everyone, there is zero chance that the sprawling proposal that our Democratic friends have gestured towards could pass either chamber by unanimous consent this week. No chance,” he said.

After the GOP leader rejected their offer, Democrats blocked McConnell’s request to simply add $250 billion to the funding number for the PPP, which the CARES Act set at $350 billion.

“I’m literally talking about deleting the number 350 and writing 600 in its place,” McConnell said. “We’re not talking about making any policy changes.”  

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) on Thursday said Republicans want to wait until May or June to assess the impact of the CARES Act before moving forward with another relief package.

“My view on this publicly stated was the first job of the Congress, the first focus of the congress should be to clear up any problems or short comings that the CARES Act itself had. And we will know a lot more what we need by early summer a month from now than we know today,” he said.

Blunt said he didn’t know whether McConnell would make another unanimous consent request to provide more money for small businesses.

GOP senators say the additions that Democrats are demanding along with $250 billion in additional money for small-business lending are expansive policy changes and significant new funding allocations.

“The ink barely dry on the $2.2 trillion dollar Cares Act, money largely not yet out the door (except for PPP), and Schumer and Pelosi to seek more spending for spending’s sake,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted on Thursday.

“We need to make sure what we have already done works as intended. Then, fill the gaps,” he said.

Tags Ben Cardin Chuck Schumer Coronavirus John Cornyn Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden Roy Blunt Steven Mnuchin

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