Senate Democrats stalled a bid to pour another $250 billion into the nation's small business bailout program Thursday, insisting Congress must also approve more money for other efforts that need cash more immediately.
They also insisted that the Paycheck Protection Program needed changes so that it better reaches small businesses in rural and minority communities, and expands beyond large banks that are shutting out many borrowers.
Congress included $350 billion in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill it already passed for the Paycheck Protection Program, which hands out loans that will be forgiven in most circumstances. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to beef that up at the request of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. McConnell pleaded for unanimous consent to do so at a pro forma session of the Senate. Normally no business is done at such moments, and he needed consent to make the changes. “Just a few days after the program opened for business, $100 billion in loans have already been committed. That is 30 percent of the total funding, spoken for in just the first few days," McConnell said. "We need more funding and we need it fast." "The country needs us to be nimble," he said, suggesting Congress can deal with other problems later. He accused Democrats of taking "Americans’ paychecks hostage" to win another "another sweeping bill that spends half a trillion dollars." McConnell was referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's bid to add $100 billion more to help hospitals, $150 billion more to help states, and a request to boost food assistance. But Democrats who objected to McConnell's request said there were also small business programs in the CARES Act that are already out of cash and need replenishment sooner. They pointed to a $10 billion fast grant program run by the Small Business Administration that already had $11 billion in requests, as well as other programs that had billions less than needed. They also cited complaints about banks that won't lend from the existing program to historically poorly served communities. They accused McConnell of carrying out a "political stunt" to make Democrats look like they oppose helping small businesses, when McConnell could have worked with Democrats to get a bipartisan measure. "Yes, we need more money for this program," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who accused McConnell of "take-it-or-leave-it" brinksmanship. "For goodness sakes, let's take the opportunity to make some bipartisan fixes to allow this program to work better for the very people it's designed to help," Van Hollen said. After Democrats objected to McConnell's request and McConnell objected to theirs, he recessed the Senate until its next scheduled pro forma meeting on Monday. Talks were expected to continue through the weekend.
McConnell's request would have required simply changing the amount of money for the Paycheck Protection Program from $350 billion to $600 billion.
He said their request would never pass the Senate or the House on unanimous consent, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested earlier that McConnell's plan was insufficient.
Here is the Democrats' full proposal: