Congress debates the contours of the next potential coronavirus aid package as President Donald Trump seeks $ 250 billion for small businesses and Democrats propose adding an additional $ 250 billion for small communities, equipment protection and food stamps.
The question now is whether and how quickly Congress and the White House can accept it.
Pence was calling private conference calls with Republicans and House Democrats on Wednesday, in separate sessions with the Mnuchin administration’s coronavirus task force, as all parties appear to agree that more help is needed.
Mnuchin’s assessment to Democrats appears to address head-on concerns that small business aid was fraught with problems and not falling into the hands of those who needed it most.
He told them that the loans have so far been approved by 3,600 lenders. It was not clear, however, how much of that money had actually come out now.
Lawmakers have raised concerns that direct payments of $ 1,200 to Americans could be delayed by several months for those who do not have direct deposit through the treasury.
During the morning call with Republicans, Pence and GOP leaders lobbied for the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program and made sure it received all the extra funds it needed, according to a Republican assistant not authorized to discuss call and to remain anonymous.
GOP leaders agreed to quickly approve more funding for the program, the aide said.
At the same time, Mnuchin also spoke by phone with Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, who spoke to the secretary about the Democrats’ “very reasonable and necessary” proposal, Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said. .
“We hope that our Republican colleagues will support this ‘Small Business Plus’ proposal tomorrow in the Senate,” he said.
The pandemic crisis is devastating communities large and small, and Washington is poised to go beyond the $ 2.2 trillion package approved just two weeks ago. Similar calls with senators are expected to follow.
Despite the urgency of action, Congress appears to be heading for a showdown ahead of the vote on Thursday.
The decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to rush Trump’s request for small business aid to a vote, with just 48 hours’ notice and without input from Democrats, threatened a fragile alliance for action bipartite.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer were quick to outline their own priorities in a statement on Wednesday.
“The heartbreaking acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands bold, urgent and continued action by Congress to protect the lives and livelihoods of Americans,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “The American people need to know that their government is there for them at this time of great need. “
Democrats say they support the $ 250 billion in aid for small businesses, but want $ 125 billion funneled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, families, women, minorities and veterans.
They are also asking for an additional $ 100 billion for hospitals and community health centers to provide testing supplies and protective gear like masks and gowns. They seek an additional $ 150 billion for state and local governments to deal with the coronavirus crisis
They also want a 15 percent increase in maximum food stamp benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The joint request reflected input from committee chairs and a wider range of Democrats, with lawmakers representing districts with large minority populations being particularly concerned about whether the benefits of small business grants are reaching their communities.
Republicans were quick to retort that Democrats were blocking swift action on small business aid. Many Democratic demands have revisited the behind-the-scenes battles in the series of talks that produced the CARES Act two weeks ago.
“Senate Democrats should drop their shameful threat to freeze this funding immediately,” said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the GOP leadership. “Our small businesses are in desperate need of help – now.”
McConnell spokesman David Popp declined to comment.
During the call with Pence, Republicans also expressed concern that small business aid would be delayed by Democrats pushing for more help, said another Republican not authorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.
Mnuchin has asked for an additional $ 250 billion for a newly launched small business payroll program that has been inundated with demands.
Part of the vast $ 2.2 trillion package that became law just two weeks ago, the $ 350 billion paycheck protection program has been inundated as businesses rush to ask for it. $ 10 million in forgivable loans to keep paychecks in circulation amid the home shutdown.
With Congress virtually closed amid the virus outbreak, passing any measures will require bipartisan cooperation.
The House and Senate could deploy procedures that would allow simple voice voting, without a roll call, or leaders could try to approve the package with unanimous consent.
Consent, however, seems unlikely, as Democrats push for additions and Tax Hawks criticize the cost. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., Opposed the previous package, forcing lawmakers to return to Washington for a vote.
A leading Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has also sounded the alarm about fairness reforms that she says need to be done quickly amid the difficult rollout of the small business agenda.
Millions of small business owners “have been through hell over the past two weeks as they scramble to try and access the money they desperately need,” Warren tweeted.
Minority-owned businesses and others face setbacks in asking for help, Democrats said.
“Congress also needs to dramatically simplify the PPP for it to actually work,” Warren tweeted. “Make sure banks provide equal access to all borrowers – and do it NOW. “