Mnuchin, Democrats Says Aid Package May Be Passed in Days

(Bloomberg) — Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they’re close an an agreement to top up funds for a loan program aimed at helping small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, and to provide funds for hospitals.

Mnuchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he’s hopeful the deal can be passed in the Senate on Monday and the House on Tuesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered no specific timetable but said the sides are “close.”

While the Senate has a pro forma session scheduled for Monday, passage of any measure then is unlikely. Leaders of both parties must check with all senators to ensure they would agree to approve something by unanimous consent, and text of legislation is usually provided first. The Senate’s next scheduled session is currently set for Thursday.

Discussions are focused on adding an additional $300 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, designed to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls as much of the country remains under stay-at-home orders, Mnuchin said.

He also proposed $50 billion more for a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, or EIDL, that provides financing and advances as grants of as much as $10,000.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted a call for his members Sunday afternoon to discuss the package, said a senior Republican leadership aide. President Donald Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin were among those on the call.

McConnell and Mnuchin reiterated that state and local government funding and food-stamp demands from Democrats would not be part of the package now under review.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, also on CNN, said he was hopeful the framework of the small-business deal could be reached on Sunday night or early Monday, including tweaks to the program designed to make money more available to the smallest of businesses.

Congress is “very close” to a bipartisan deal, Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the Democratic caucus backed her approach to dig in and demand additional money for hospitals and other segments in the current round.

“We’re close. We have common ground,” Pelosi said. “I think we’re very close to an agreement.”

On CNN, Mnuchin said all sides were “making a lot of progress” on another $300 billion in small business funding. The deal will include $75 billion of the $100 billion Democrats have demanded for hospitals, and $25 billion for virus testing, he said.

Separately, two senators on Sunday proposed a $500 billion fund for state and local governments as part of the next, comprehensive rescue package from Congress.

House Republicans have scheduled an 8 p.m. conference call for Sunday to get an update from the their leaders on the status of negotiations on replenishing the tapped-out PPP, according to multiple party officials.

One Republican lawmaker familiar with the situation said there’s been no official whipping or vote counting on a possible deal. The call Sunday is being billed as catching members up on the status of talks, the lawmaker said.

Read more: Democrats Make Offer to Mnuchin in Effort to Break Aid Deadlock

Democratic insistence that the Congress do more than simply “top up” the PPP funds stalled action on the measure last week as funds dwindled, drawing criticism from Republicans and President Donald Trump.

“Overwhelmingly, my caucus, and we’re working closely with the Senate Democrats, know that we have an opportunity, and an urgency, to do something for our hospitals, our teachers and firefighters and the rest, right now,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi on Saturday penned a progress report to Democrats — a “Dear Colleague” letter — that praised the “brilliant leadership of our Chairs and the overwhelming support of our Members to strengthen” and broaden the availability of the PPP.

Compromise Offer

“It is very urgent though that we support our police and fire, first responders, teachers,” Pelosi said in a “Fox News Sunday” interview. “Everything we’re doing is about the coronavirus. Not going afield into anything else.”

Congressional Democrats on Friday night outlined a compromise offer to Mnuchin, a senior Democratic aide said on Saturday.

Terms of the offer included allocating an already-requested $150 billion in state and local funding based on need, but also designating additional money for cities, counties and towns, the senior aide said.

Key swing states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — all won by Trump in 2016 — would receive billions of dollars in new aid under the Democrats’ proposal.

The Small Business Association’s $349 billion PPP program, which was intended to help mom-and-pop businesses, ran out of funds in less than two weeks.

It’s come under fire for payouts made to certain operations like large chain restaurants. More than a dozen publicly traded companies with revenue of more than $100 million, including Shake Shack Inc., Potbelly Corp. and a Tex-Mex restaurant chain with more than 10,000 employees, received loans.

The National Federation of Independent Business, the largest group representing small businesses in the country, is calling on Congress to reserve $200 billion in the next tranche of funds for firms that have 20 or fewer employees.

In an interview on CNN Saturday and on Twitter, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said the types of businesses that can apply for funds “is too broad.”

“Most of the money now is going to people who have hundreds of people working for them, and millions of dollars in their accounts,” Summers said. “We need to change the rules.”

The industries that received the largest share of loans were construction; professional, scientific and technical services; manufacturing; and health care and social assistance, according to a report from the SBA.

The PPP offers loans of as much as $10 million that convert to grants if proceeds are used to keep workers on the payroll and cover rent and other approved expenses for about two months, a stopgap designed to help businesses get by until the economy reopens.

Schumer said on CNN that “from one end to the country to the other, we have been hearing that people can’t get the loans — the local restaurant, the local barbershop, the local drugstore, or even startup businesses.”

Democrats “want to put some more money in, but let’s set aside some money to make sure it goes to the rural areas, to the minority areas, to the unbanked,” he said.

Mnuchin conceded that “some big businesses” were getting money from the PPP. “That was in the bill. But let me say, the majority of these are going to small businesses.”

(Updates with McConnell-led call in sixth paragraph.)

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