Political News

Clash over small business relief intensifies as Dems demand more money for testing and equipment

Posted April 13, 2020 10:58 a.m. EDT

— The battlelines on Capitol Hill over the next round of emergency funding are hardening amid dire warnings that a popular small business relief program could soon run out of money without the quick intervention of Washington.

The two sides remain far apart and will need to quickly resolve their differences in order to ensure the nation's small businesses can continue to have access to the forgivable loans that were enacted as part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, the largest rescue package in American history.

And even if congressional leaders cut a deal, they'll need cooperation from the full membership of both houses to quickly pass the legislation out of both chambers -- since lawmakers are away from Washington. If any lawmaker objects to a deal, members will be forced to return to Washington to cast votes in-person, something that could further delay relief to Americans.

Democrats say a host of pressing matters must be addressed while increasing money to the small business loan program. Republicans say those other matters should wait until the stimulus money has first been spent, arguing the small business program is in the most dire need of cash and must be addressed first.

"Conversations are likely to extend most of the week," said one source involved in the talks.

Democratic leaders on Monday reiterated their demands that additional money for the program -- initially funded at $350 billion -- be tied to more funds for cash-strapped state and local governments, hospitals and food stamp programs. Plus, they said that the small business program should be modified to ensure that loans are properly distributed to under-served communities.

And they added a new demand: More money to establish a national program to test for the novel coronavirus and provide personal protective equipment to front-line health care workers.

"Finally, we all desire an end to the shutdown orders so we can get Americans back to work and back to normal," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "However, there is still not enough testing available to realistically allow that to happen. We Democrats demand adequate funding for the production and distribution of national rapid testing and personal protective equipment -- it cannot wait. "

The comments came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a Saturday statement, calling Democrats' demands "reckless" and for immediate passage of a clean $250-billion increase of the small business program.

"This will not be Congress' last word on Covid-19, but this crucial program needs funding now," the two GOP leaders said.

Schumer said Friday that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had agreed to pursue bipartisan talks to resolve the differences.

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