GOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday blocked a bill to allow more flexibility with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but signaled lawmakers were close to an agreement that would let the legislation pass.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) tried to clear a House-passed bill that would give more flexibility to how businesses use the PPP loans.

“We can’t wait any longer. Businesses are really suffering for lack of these changes. And to wait and wait and wait, if someone wants to make changes, let’s do it when we get to the HEROES bill, to COVID four,” Schumer said.

The bill, which the House passed last month, would extend the window for businesses to spend loans obtained through the program.

Under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed into law March 27, businesses were given eight weeks to spend the loan funds. The House-passed bill would extend that to 24 weeks.

The measure also would change a 75-25 divide included in the CARES Act — which required businesses to spend 75 percent of the loan on payroll and 25 percent on other fixed costs such as rent and utilities — to a 60-40 split.

Johnson said he was objecting because language in the bill could be misinterpreted to let businesses apply for the PPP loans through the end of the year, instead of through the end of June.

Senators have been locked in negotiations throughout Wednesday to try to work out an agreement to pass the bill.

“I reached out to Democrat leaders saying we’re very close. I think we’ll probably be able to pass the House bill with assurances by unanimous consent, just not at this moment,” Johnson said.

Under the Senate’s rules any senator can try to pass a bill by unanimous consent, but any senator can object.

Johnson added that he expected the Senate would eventually pass the House bill as is, potentially as soon as Wednesday evening or Thursday. But he is wanting to get committee leaders and Senate leadership to sign a “letter of intent” that the PPP program not be automatically reauthorized through the end of the year.

“Put that letter in the Congressional Record so that we are certain that we’re not reauthorizing this or authorizing it through Dec. 31, that the authorization does end June 30,” Johnson said.

Passing the House bill without additional changes would allow it to go straight to President Trump. The House isn’t expected to return to Washington to vote until the end of the month, a potential hurdle if the Senate makes changes.

The Senate left town late last month without being able to pass a separate bill from Cardin and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would have extended the window for spending PPP funds from eight weeks to 16 weeks.

Tags Ben Cardin CARES Act Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Heroes Act Jeanne Shaheen Marco Rubio Pandemic Paycheck Protection Program ppp Ron Johnson small business loans small businesses

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