Democrats and GOP on collision course over new emergency relief package

The White House proposed an additional $251 billion for a small business loan program that was enacted as part of the new $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package, the largest rescue measure in US history. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would move to quickly approve the bill in his chamber on Thursday, with calls from the Trump administration for the House to quickly clear the plan by Friday.

But on Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer laid out several major demands, including $150 billion for state and local governments, $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers and more money for food stamp programs. In addition, the Democrats said half of the money in the $251 billion for the small business program should be directed toward local lenders that benefit farmers, women, veterans and minority-owned companies.

With lawmakers away from Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic, leaders on both sides will have to agree to move on the plan so it can be approved quickly — because any single lawmaker can object and effectively force members to return to the Capitol to approve the package, delaying final action for days.

Talks to avoid a stalemate are expected to continue Wednesday, and Schumer spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his plan, according to a Schumer spokesman.

McConnell has yet to officially comment on the Democrats’ latest proposal — but the GOP is signaling that it believes the small business lending program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, should be the initial priority — and the other items should wait until the next round of talks.

McConnell: Senate to boost small business loan program with possible action on Thursday

“With PPP actually in operation, we know for sure that there will be a problem and that it needs cash now,” said one official involved in the talks. “For the others that they’ve identified, they haven’t even started yet, so no idea about run rates, exhaustion, etc.”

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, added that the GOP leader’s preference is to prioritize the small business program.

On Wednesday, McConnell started the process to move for quick passage by Thursday of the $251 billion for additional small business loans — without including the list of Democratic demands outlined by Pelosi and Schumer, according to GOP sources.

McConnell has checked with senators to determine whether any of them will object to moving just the $251 billion package.

Democrats are likely to do just that and object to passing the $251 billion package if their demands aren’t met, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars for hospitals and state and local governments, according to Democratic sources.

That means on the floor Thursday morning, each side could present dueling bills that will fail to clear the Senate — unless a deal is reached to avoid an impasse.

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