McConnell Moves on Quick Aid Vote While Pelosi Urges More Cash

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressed ahead with his plan for a quick vote Thursday on a $250 billion boost in a small business aid program, putting him at odds with the two top Democrats in Congress who want to double the size of an interim stimulus package.

McConnell has offered an amendment to the record $2.2 trillion pandemic response package to boost the total available to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses to $600 billion.

His plan for quick Senate approval by unanimous consent rests on no objections being raised by Democrats after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed adding $100 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments.

The next stimulus package “must provide transformational relief as the American people weather this assault on their lives and livelihoods,” the Democratic leaders said.

Pelosi said later Wednesday that McConnell’s plan wouldn’t win quick passage in the House by Friday.

“The bill that they put forth doesn’t have, will not get unanimous support in the House. It just won’t,” she said in an NPR interview.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday said he still hopes Congress will approve the additional funds he requested for the small business program. In a CNBC interview he promised small firms that “we will not run out of money.”

The White House opposes the more expansive plan offered by Schumer and Pelosi, but President Donald Trump said he is still hopeful that an agreement can be reached to boost the small business aid funding. Additional rescue money can be dealt with later, he said.

“We have” a “pretty good understanding with Democrats,” he said without directly addressing the Democratic plan. “We can do a phase four and a phase four would be later.”

Schumer and Mnuchin spoke Wednesday about the more expansive Democratic plan, the minority leader’s spokesman said without elaborating. Doug Andres, a spokesman for McConnell, didn’t respond to a question about whether negotiations with Schumer are continuing.

In a conference call with House Democrats Wednesday, Pelosi said leaders were still trying to work out what might be possible to pass in both chambers on an expedited basis.

House Democrats may not be the only hurdles to quick passage of McConnell’s plan for additional small business funding.

Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who two weeks ago forced House lawmakers to return to Washington to vote on the $2.2 trillion stimulus, indicated Wednesday on Fox Business News that he could do it again.

Massie said lawmakers should be on the record with their votes, and said Pelosi should consider changing House rules to allow remote voting. She has opposed such a change.

“I’m against the bill, but the main thing that I’m against is letting Nancy Pelosi do it in the House on her own without members being accountable,” Massie said. “The Constitution requires at least half of them to vote on this.”

Under the Democrats’ proposal Wednesday, half of the small business assistance -- or $125 billion -- would be channeled through community-based financial institutions that serve companies owned by farmers, families, women, minorities and veterans.

Businesses have rushed to tap the $350 billion loan program that was part of the massive $2.2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress in response to the economic crisis spawned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay-at-home orders across the country have particularly squeezed small businesses, which account for almost half of U.S. private employment.

As of midday Wednesday, there had been more than 381,000 applications processed totaling $100 billion from more than 3,600 lending institutions, according to the SBA. That amount hasn’t been given to firms yet, but rather is the value of loans registered for lenders to complete the process and disburse funds.

Absent from their proposal on Wednesday were provisions that Schumer and Pelosi had previously called for in a follow-up stimulus package to the plan passed late last month.

In addition to an extension of the PPP program, Pelosi also proposed including an extension of the expanded unemployment insurance and more direct payments to individuals. She has estimated the bill would cost at least $1 trillion.

Republicans have thus far been reluctant to enact a wide-ranging phase four stimulus bill. Now that they and their core business supporters such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are demanding an infusion for PPP, Democrats could have leverage to obtain more unemployment insurance and direct payment for workers.

Pelosi would have to weigh such an opportunity against the political costs of delaying aid to small businesses.

While there is support among Senate Democrats for expanding the Paycheck Protection Program’s funds, they want assurances that the pool of lenders in the program is broad enough that small businesses aren’t subjected to biases based on sex, race or other factors, according to a Senate Democratic aide. The aide added that community banks, microlenders and other sources should supplement the efforts of major banks.

Schumer separately on Tuesday unveiled his own plan for a next stimulus package. It would include a massive “Heroes Fund” to give hazard pay of up to $25,000 each for workers including grocery store employees, transit workers and pharmacists who are risking their lives to stay on the job amid the coronavirus outbreak. That is also likely to have a price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

(Updates with Trump remarks in eighth, ninth paragraphs)

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