Congressional deadlock deepens as coronavirus urgency increases
Yet Democrats say it’s a fight worth having. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, one of the handful of red state Democrats left in the Senate, said he does not “feel the urgency” to bend to the GOP’s wishes. He said without more money for hospitals, his state’s rural outposts could be shuttered forever.
“It’s real money, and it’s all borrowed. I’m not opposed to infusing money in tough economic times. What I am opposed to is putting money where it’s not going to do the maximum amount of good,” Tester said in an interview. “This is a health care issue, that’s driving an economic downturn. If we don’t deal with the health care issue first, the economy is not going to snap back. And there’s no money in there for hospitals.”
He said the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to last for two months: “Someone gave us the figures that said if you put that amount of money in the Paycheck Protection, this will last eight weeks. So if that isn’t happening we should find out why.”
The Trump administration reported huge demands for the loans, fueling the sense of pressure to approve funding legislation. Add to that an increasingly dire economic outlook as upward of 16 million Americans claimed unemployment benefits in recent weeks. But it’s still unclear how much money has landed in the hands of small businesses after a series of stumbles in the program’s launch.
And some Republicans are uneasy about how the program is playing out. In an interview, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he believed too many businesses that were not in dire need of help were taking advantage of the low-interest government loans and that Congress should focus only on helping businesses closed by government orders or that could demonstrate a “dramatic drop in revenue.”
“People are looking at this and going: this is a great deal, this is a low interest loan. Why not take it,” Johnson said. “There are many issues with this program and it’s not necessarily fair. I would like to have us focus more on fixing those issues. And by the way, if we did that, maybe we wouldn’t need another $250 billion.”
The Small Business Administration said on Monday morning that about 904,000 applications were approved for a total of $221 billion. Some in the banking industry believed that figure was meaningless because lenders only just began issuing funds to borrowers.
For several days after the program’s April 3 launch, banks complained that they lacked the necessary guidance and documentation needed to close out loans and get money to businesses. Lenders continued to have angst this week because the administration had yet to tell them how to process applications for self-employed individuals who became eligible for the program Friday.
A spokesperson for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Small Business Committee, said the longevity of the $350 billion allocated for the program was a moving target “but we expect funding to run out as early as this week.”
“If the expectations start to sink in that this money could run out. then you are going to really create a very aggressive rush to get in the door,” Toomey said. “It would be very better to assure everybody that we’re going to make sure that we can provide the resources for everyone that qualifies.”
Bankers expected the money to last a little longer after all the hurdles the industry faced in processing applications — though they said there is still an urgent need for Congress to replenish the small-business relief.
“The program is likely to run out of money by the end of the month,” said Paul Merski, group vice president for congressional relations at the Independent Community Bankers of America. “The sooner Congress can act to supplement the funding for the program, the more loans are going to be able to be disbursed. You definitely don’t want the scenario of bankers having loan applications in hand that qualify and there’s no money because the program ran out of funding.”
Yet Democratic leaders are showing no signs of relenting on their demands this week. House Democrats will huddle on a conference call Monday afternoon after a mostly quiet holiday weekend. In an interview with POLITICO on Thursday evening, Pelosi said Democrats had no plans to abandon their request for more funding for local governments and hospitals this week.
“We’re not negotiating that,” Pelosi said when asked whether Democrats would pull back on other demands if Republicans agreed to funding carve outs for minority- and women-owned businesses.
“This has an integrity, a oneness to it, which addresses the concerns that the American people have: They want those workers to be protected,” she continued. “They want the people who are sick to be cared for. And they also want to be able to survive economically themselves and that covers both of those things.”