Senate standoff on new coronavirus funding

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., unsuccessfully sought unanimous Senate consent for a $250 billion increase in funding for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Senate Democrats who want Congress to prioritize an additional $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments blocked a Republican effort Thursday to approve $250 billion in additional funding for small business loans.

Maryland’s two Democratic senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen double teamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during a pro forma Senate session.

When McConnell unsuccessfully sought unanimous consent for the small business funding increase, Van Hollen countered by proposing an amendment to add $100 billion more for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments.

That move resulted in a standoff that left it likely that Congress won’t resolve either issue until there are bipartisan congressional negotiations that also involve the White House.

McConnell had proposed unanimous consent for only a one-word change to the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

McConnell’s amendment would have increased to $600 billion the funding for the Paycheck Protection Program lending money to small businesses to keep paying their workers from the current $350 billion.

“I am literally talking about deleting the number 350 and writing 600 in its place,” McConnell said during his Senate floor speech. “Let me say it again. We’re not talking about making any policy changes. We’re literally changing the number 350 to 600. That’s all we are suggesting today.”

McConnell brought the request to the Senate floor based on requests from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and a letter Tuesday from the Trump administration’s White House Office of Management and Budget. “As of today, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has recorded over 220,000 loans totaling approximately $66 billion,” the letter said. “Given the level of demand for the program, the administration believes the funds appropriated for this program will soon be exhausted.”

Cardin, who is the ranking Democrat of the Senate Small Business Committee, labeled McConnell’s request “a political stunt” because only 30% of the money has been committed.

“But there are programs under the CARES Act that have run out of money,” Cardin said, citing the emergency disaster relief program as an example.

Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., issued a statement afterward asking Democrats to reconsider their tactic.

“While funds for other programs in the CARES Act have not even been disbursed, the demand for the Paycheck Protection Program remains incredibly high,” Rubio said in a press statement. “We are seeing a rate of $3.5 billion an hour on a nearly $350 billion program. We have days, not weeks, until PPP runs out of money.”

The National League of Cities sent an April 2 letter to congressional leaders and President Trump outlining its priorities for the next federal emergency spending bill.

Among the requests were a federal stabilization fund for cities and towns, conversion of federal loans into grants and additional federal funding for transportation, water systems, housing and broadband systems with no local match requirements.

Van Hollen said during his Senate floor remarks that the governor of his state, Gov. Larry Hogan, who is president of the National Governors Association, also has made an urgent bipartisan request on behalf of NGA to assist states and local jurisdictions.

“We have been on the phone nonstop with our local officials,” Van Hollen said. “They are running out of equipment. We have got firefighters who need help. We have emergency responders who need help. All of these requests are urgent and, I believe could be dealt with on a bipartisan basis.”

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