WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration and Congress are nearing an agreement on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.
President Donald Trump said Sunday, “We’re getting close to a deal.”
Along with the small business boost, Trump said the negotiators were looking at “helping our hospitals,” particularly hard-hit rural health care providers.
A deal could be announced Monday, the president said at a White House briefing.
With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Sunday he was hopeful of a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration program back up by midweek.
“I think we’re very close to a deal today. I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he believed a deal could be reached late Sunday or early Monday. “We still have a few more details to deal with,” he said.
The Senate is scheduled for a pro forma session Monday, but no vote has been set.
The House announced it could meet as soon as Wednesday for a recorded vote on the pending package, according to a schedule update from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Under the emerging deal there would be $300 billion for small-business payroll program, and $50 billion would be available for small business disaster fund. Additionally, it would bring $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing, according to those involved in the talks
On a conference call Sunday afternoon that included Trump, Mnuchin and Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated the only remaining item for discussion involved the money for testing, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private call.
Under the emerging deal, the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses would get roughly $300 billion, according to Mnuchin. The program has been swamped by companies applying for loans and reached its appropriations limit last Thursday after approving nearly 1.7 million loans. That left thousands of small businesses in limbo as they sought help. An additional $50 billion in the evolving deal would go for disaster loans.
About $75 billion would go to U.S. hospitals, for those straining under a ballooning coronavirus caseload as well as those struggling to stay financially afloat after suspending elective surgeries during the pandemic. About $25 billion would be added for COVID-19 testing, something states have said was urgently needed. The money for hospitals and testing were priorities sought by congressional Democrats.
But additional aid to state and local governments would be left out, Mnuchin said. Democrats have been keen to boost funding to cash-strapped states and local governments whose revenues have cratered, but the issue threatened to provoke fights between large, high-tax states like California and New York and smaller states more typically run by Republicans.
“The president is willing to consider that in the next bill, but wants to get this over the finish line with a focus on small businesses, hospitals and testing,” Mnuchin said.
He said he’s been in touch with GOP leaders including McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and all are “on board with the same plan.” On the Sunday call with senators, Mnuchin and McConnell reiterated that money for state and local governments as well as food stamps would not be included in the package, according to the GOP aide.
“I’m hopeful that we can reach an agreement, that the Senate can pass this tomorrow, and that the House can take it up on Tuesday, and, Wednesday, we’d be back up and running,” Mnuchin said earlier in his TV interview.
Schumer said Democrats would insist on aid for state and local governments. They had submitted a compromise offer Friday that would provide $150 billion for states as well as cities, counties and towns based on need. Key swing states for Trump in the November presidential election — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — would receive billions in new aid under the proposal, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of private negotiations.
“We are pushing hard,” Schumer said. “We don’t want our police, our firefighters, our EMTs, our bus drivers — this is not an abstract issue. We don’t want them fired.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted an agreement would be reached “soon.”
“I am pleased to report that we have been engaged in bipartisan negotiations on our interim legislation, and our progress is encouraging,” she said in a letter late Saturday to Democratic colleagues.
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who leads the National Governors’ Association, said he and other governors believe that aid for state and local government is “desperately needed,” but that it may not be an issue worth fighting over for now.
“I don’t think the deal is finalized yet,” he said. “But, look, we do not want to hold up funding to these small businesses. And we hope that the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate can come together in a bipartisan way and get something moving for the American people.”
Protesters worrying about their livelihoods and bucking infringements on their freedom took to the streets in some places. A few countries were acting act to ease restrictions, but most of the world remains unified in insisting it’s much too early to take more aggressive steps.
In the United States, there was clear evidence of the mounting pressure. The Trump administration says parts of the country are ready to begin a gradual return to normalcy. Yet some state leaders say their response to the pandemic is hindered by a woefully inadequate federal response.
Washington state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, even accused Trump of encouraging insubordination and “illegal activity” by goading on protesters who flouted shelter-in-place rules.
“To have an American president to encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing,” Inslee told ABC’s “This Week.” He said it was ”dangerous because it can inspire people to ignore things that actually can save their lives.”
Trump supporters in several states ignored social distancing and stay-at-home orders, gathering to demand that governors lift controls on public activity. The president has invoked their rallying cry, calling on several states with Democratic governors to “LIBERATE.”
Vice President Mike Pence sidestepped questions Sunday about why Trump seemed to be encouraging efforts to undermine preventive measures his own government has promoted. Inslee nonetheless likened Trump’s response to “schizophrenia.” Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said it “just doesn’t make any sense.”
“We’re sending completely conflicting messages out to the governors and to the people, as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations,” Hogan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Shutdowns that began in China in late January and spread globally have disrupted economic, social, cultural and religious life and plunged the world into a deep economic slump unseen since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and millions more fear they’ll be next.
Watch the full White House briefing below.