Aides expect Schumer, Mnuchin to reach deal on coronavirus relief
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) are expected to reach a deal this week on an interim coronavirus relief bill that would provide money to businesses, hospitals and state governments.
The deal could lead to legislation being passed quickly through the Senate on Thursday, and through the House no later than early next week.
The House has said it will not return to Washington until at least the week of May 4 given the danger of the coronavirus, which has sent lawmakers in both chambers home.
Democrats say that Mnuchin, who is spearheading negotiations for Republicans, is open to a deal even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t show much interest in negotiating with Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Mnuchin, speaking at the White House on Monday, said legislation should focus on small-business programs and that other issues such as funding for state governments and hospitals should be dealt with separately — though he also expressed a willingness to work with Congress on getting money to various needs.
“This was a bipartisan program,” Mnuchin noted at a White House briefing. “We should top up that program now. I know the Democrats want to talk about more money for hospitals and states. Right now we’re just sending the money out to the hospitals and states. They haven’t come close to using that money.”
GOP aides, however, think a deal is likely.
They expect the Small Business Administration to announce this week that funding for the small-business Paycheck Protection Program needs to be replenished immediately, which will put pressure on McConnell to accept Schumer and Pelosi’s demands to add money for hospitals and state governments to the legislation to get it quickly through Congress.
In the Senate, the opportunity to pass a deal will come Thursday when McConnell indicated he may offer another unanimous consent agreement to provide at least $250 billion to the popular small-business lending program.
Democratic leaders say a portion of that money should be set aside for women- and minority-owned businesses in underserved areas and be paired with at least $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments.
“I suspect what will happen is at some point the Small Business Administration will say they’ve committed the full $350 billion that they’ve got and officially need more and Schumer and Pelosi will say ‘OK, here’s the price to be paid for that,’ and Mnuchin will say, ‘OK, let’s do it’ and then we’ll go to the floor and do a U.C. and pass it,” said a Senate Republican aide, referring to a unanimous consent agreement needed to waive Senate rules to quickly pass legislation.
One House Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), says he will try to force a roll-call vote on an interim package, which if successful would force lawmakers to return to Washington early to get legislation through the House.
But the presiding House chair, a Democrat, could overrule Massie’s objection, just as Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) did on March 27 to get around a similar Massie objection.
Agreeing to an interim deal this week would spare lawmakers from having to come back next week to resume negotiations on coronavirus relief funding.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Monday that he does not expect the House to be back in session next week, signaling a deal by unanimous consent to avoid a shortfall in small-business lending funds is likely this week.
“Members are advised that absent an emergency, the House is not expected to meet prior to Monday, May 4, 2020,” Hoyer’s office said in a floor update.
Hoyer’s office said that rank-and-file House members would be “given sufficient notice” if Congress is unexpectedly required to convene earlier “to take action on critical legislation related to the coronavirus response or other legislative priorities.”
Senate Republicans are starting to realize that Schumer and Pelosi aren’t going to budge from their demands for $100 billion in additional funding for hospitals and $150 billion in additional funding for states and that the Trump administration doesn’t have much appetite for drawing out the political drama any longer.
Schumer and Pelosi also demanded a 15 percent funding increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income Americans.
The Small Business Administration reported Monday that it has approved more than 941,000 applications for loans totaling at least $228 billion, 65 percent of the $349 billion that Congress appropriated for the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act. More than 4,500 lending institutions have participated in the program.
Republican governors are also stepping up pressure on GOP lawmakers in Washington to provide significant additional aid for strapped state budgets.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republican chairman of the National Governors Association, released a statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Saturday calling for an additional $500 billion in federal aid for states and territories.
“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery, and—in turn—our collective effort to get people back to work,” the statement said.
With requests for additional aid piling up, some Republicans think it might have been easier for McConnell to have agreed to Schumer’s and Pelosi’s request last week for only an additional $150 billion in aid for states.
“They should’ve taken the deal last week and said ‘sure.’ Money for the states, money for hospitals, money for SNAP is a pretty cheap price to pay, considering all the other things Democrats want on the table,” said a Senate GOP aide.
Media outlets have published pictures of long lines of people waiting at food banks around the country as nearly 17 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in recent weeks.
McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced Saturday they would again request a “clean” infusion of more money to the small-business program.
McConnell on Thursday requested $251 billion for the program on the Senate floor, but Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) objected on behalf of the Democratic leadership.
Cardin, who spoke with Mnuchin on Thursday, warned Monday the Small Business Administration is fast running out of money.
“It’s important that we act, and I hope that we can act this week, and we need to get together as we did on the CARES Act, a 96 to zero vote in the Senate. That’s what we need to do again,” he told Fox News.
Cardin noted the Small Business Administration’s emergency grant and loan program “has already run out of money.”
Several million small businesses are being cut back on their requests — an average of a $200,000 emergency loan to only $15,000 — and the grant program is also oversubscribed,” he said.
“So we need money in the Paycheck Protection Program, we need money in the emergency grant and loan program. We need to get that going,” he said.
Cardin found Mnuchin open to an interim deal when he spoke with him Thursday.
Schumer’s office on Monday evening issued a press release pointing to growing Republican support for some of the changes Democrats have requested to the small-business funding request.
The United States Conference of Mayors sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday to “strongly urge” that supplemental funding for the Paycheck Protection Program also include emergency fiscal assistance for America’s cities.
They said they support the Democratic leaders’ call for $53.55 billion in emergency fiscal assistance through Community Development Block Grants.
Schumer’s staff also highlighted a letter signed last week by eight GOP senators highlighting “the economic difficulties facing our hospitals during this crisis” that “threaten significant, long-term consequences.”
The Republican senators, including two in competitive races — Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) — wrote that Congress should “prevent the unnecessary loss of providers and health workforce” and offered to work with Schumer and McConnell on legislative changes in the funding package for the small-business program.
Mike Lillis contributed.
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