A clash loomed in the Senate Thursday morning over competing proposals for coronavirus relief, with Republicans and the White House demanding an additional $250 billion for small businesses, and Democrats insisting on new money for hospitals, cities and states. Both plans were likely to fail, leaving the path forward for additional federal intervention uncertain as the virus continues to tear through the economy.
New figures Thursday morning showed 6.6 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, on top of nearly 10 million Americans who had already applied for unemployment the two previous weeks. Economists say the collapse in jobs signals an unemployment rate of 12 percent or more, which would be the highest since the Great Depression.
Congress has tried to respond swiftly to the disaster, approving a record $2 trillion relief package less than two weeks ago that contained $349 billion for a new Small Business Administration initiative called the “Paycheck Protection Program.” The law also boosted spending for unemployment insurance, individual payments to Americans, and corporate bailout funds.
But the small business program in the law is being swiftly drained, with $100 billion already committed in forgivable loans despite a rocky rollout. The White House has asked Congress to immediately approve $250 billion more for the program, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intends to bring that proposal to the floor on Thursday.
“It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry. That cannot happen,” McConnell said Wednesday. “This is already a record-shattering tragedy and every day counts.”
Democrats are unwilling to approve the additional small business money without changes to the program they say would ensure fairness and transparency. They are also seeking $250 billion more for hospitals, cities and states, along with a 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits. Democrats intend to block McConnell’s proposal in a brief “pro forma” Senate session set for Thursday morning and make their counter offer, which Republicans will object to in turn.
From there, it’s uncertain where the standoff will go. With both the House and Senate out of session, and lawmakers unwilling to return to Washington en masse because of health concerns, nothing can pass either chamber without bipartisan agreement that has the unanimous support of all lawmakers. Any one lawmaker of either party has the ability to object and block any legislation from moving forward.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday that the House would not approve the small business increase pushed by Republicans and the White House without changes sought by Democrats, and she called for continued negotiations.
“I have said very clearly: What they are proposing will not get unanimous consent in the House. There is no reason why they cannot come to the table and see the value of what we are offering,” Pelosi said, speaking by phone from San Francisco and referring to the Democrats’ counter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “You cannot expect us to ossify inequality in access to capital as we try to fight the coronavirus.”
The standoff contains echoes of the days of partisan bickering that preceded ultimate agreement on the $2 trillion rescue bill, so despite Thursday’s theatrics it’s likely congressional leaders will find a way to make a deal. How quickly that will happen, though, is uncertain, and the contours of any final proposal also remain to be determined.
Robert Costa contributed to this report
The post Senate set to clash over more rescue funds for coronavirus relief, small businesses appeared first on Washington Post.