Coronavirus: Democrats block Trump's new stimulus package warning it is a 'political stunt' and not enough

Griffin Connolly
Thursday 09 April 2020 16:43 BST
White House coronavirus official says they're investigating when social distancing can be relaxed

Democrats blocked Mitch McConnell's attempt Thursday to ram through coronavirus relief legislation to infuse a new small business loan program with an additional $250bn, saying the Republican majority leader's maneuver was a "political stunt" that shut them out of the negotiating process.

Mr McConnell's new legislation to add money to the Treasury Department's new payment protection program (PPP) "will not address the immediate need of small businesses in the legislation that we have [previously] passed," said Senator Ben Cardin of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate small business panel.

Mr McConnell indicated in his opening floor remarks Thursday that PPP is the only program in the $2.2trn coronavirus stimulus package passed in March that is "at risk" of running out of money. Cardin said that's not true, naming multiple funds that have already dried up, including an emergency disaster relief funds program for small businesses.

Democratic leaders have spent the last two weeks outlining their priorities for the next coronavirus relief package, while Republicans adopted a wait-and-see approach and were mostly quiet in the media about the contours of a fourth phase of legislation.

That changed this week when Mr McConnell and the White House announced, apparently to the surprise of Democrats, that they wanted to limit the next bill to adding more money for small businesses — and nothing else.

"This unanimous consent request was not negotiated. There was no effort made to follow the process that we could get this done. So it won't get done. It's not going to be enacted. The majority leader knows that," Mr Cardin said.

Mr McConnell has argued his bill Thursday is not controversial because it does not change "any policy language that both sides negotiated together" in the previous package.

“I am literally talking about deleting the number 350 and writing 600 in its place. A completely clean bill," Mr McConnell said.

The majority leader argued Thursday that his limited bill to bolster the small business paycheck protection program — which has already loaned out at least $100bn in the course of two weeks — was the only viable proposal that could wend its way through the Senate without opposition.

Democratic priorities for a larger package — such as a 15 percent increase to food stamps, an additional $150bn for states and local governments to combat the health crisis, and $100bn for hospitals and medical resources — will take longer to negotiate, he suggested.

“We are in a situation right now where passing a bill means either unanimous consent or a voice vote. Everyone knows there is zero chance that the sprawling proposal that our Democratic friends have gestured towards could pass either chamber by unanimous consent this week. No chance. The President has already indicated he would not sign it," Mr McConnell said.

The Senate adjourned Thursday soon after Mr Cardin objected to Mr McConnell's request to pass his bill by unanimous consent, a procedural move by which the Senate can fast-track legislation to the top of the legislative docket for a quick-turnaround vote.

The chamber is not expected to return until Monday, 20 April, except in two pro forma sessions on 13 April and 16 April.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had suggested earlier this week in an interview with Roll Call he was optimistic Democrats and Republicans could find common ground to authorize more money for PPP.

That did not happen.

Democratic leaders have expressed concerns that the small business lending program has certain disadvantages for some minority, women, tribal, and military veteran business owners who don't have as ready access to the bigger financial institutions that are facilitating the program.

Democrats have asked for $60bn of the additional $250bn for PPP to be channeled through "community development financial institutions" that are more accessible to such small businesses.

And more money for PPP is a point of leverage for Democrats to negotiate for their other priorities, such as increased snap benefits and federal assistance to state and local governments and the health care system.

"The states and localities are bearing a tremendous, tremendous burden in all in of this," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with NPR Wednesday. "Whether we get [more funding for states and localities] in the next couple of days, which hopefully we will, even at that we will need more in the CARES 2 legislation," Ms Pelosi said, referring to a follow-up proposal to the $2.2trn package passed in March, known as the CARES Act.

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