Senate Sets Up Tuesday Vote on Aid Plan With Deal Nearly Done

April 21, 2020, 1:10 AM

The Senate plans to meet Tuesday for a potential vote on an emergency stimulus package of as much as $500 billion, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said negotiations are “down to the fine print.”

”We have, I believe, come to terms on the principles of the legislation, which is a good thing,” Pelosi said on CNN Monday night. She said she hopes the Senate can vote on the measure Tuesday and the House on Wednesday.

The legislation would add funds to the tapped-out Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and also would provide money for coronavirus testing and overwhelmed hospitals.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier in the day, “It’s past time, past time, to get this done for the country.”

Unanimous consent would be required for the Senate to pass the measure during a pro forma session, which would allow most members to avoid traveling to Washington amid coronavirus restrictions.

Because an objection to unanimous consent in the House is likely, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has notified members that they would probably have to travel to Washington for a recorded vote.

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At a White House briefing on Monday evening, President Donald Trump expressed optimism that a break was near in the deadlock that’s been in place since last week as the Paycheck Protection Program ran through its entire $350 billion in funding.

“Hopefully tomorrow the Senate is going to be able to vote,” Trump said. “A lot of progress has been made on that, tremendous progress.”

Discussions were focused on adding $310 billion to the small business plan, designed to help them keep workers on their payrolls as much of the country remains under stay-at-home orders.

Another $50 billion to $60 billion would go to a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan program that provides financing and advances grants of as much as $10,000 for businesses.

Both of those measure have wide bipartisan support.

The plan also would include $75 billion of the $100 billion Democrats have demanded for hospitals, with a significant portion aimed at rural hospitals, as well as $25 billion for virus testing.

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Several issues remained outstanding, three Democratic officials said. A person familiar with the negotiations said Monday that Democrats and Republicans still had a disagreement over the formula to distribute health-care aid to the states.

Another remaining disagreement was over the testing program, including which agency -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health -- should oversee it, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

Pelosi has been under pressure from her party’s liberal wing to wring more concessions, including aid for state and local governments that the GOP is resisting putting in the package.

“It is going to be very difficult to support a package that doesn’t have what we need in terms of help for state and local governments,” Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on a conference call Monday.

On the other side, moderates representing swing districts have been urging Pelosi to quickly cut a deal to restore funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

During a Sunday call with GOP senators, McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the agreement won’t include aid for state and local governments, according to a Republican aide. That had been one of the original demands of Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Another Democratic proposal, an increase for the food stamp program, also was left out, the aide said McConnell and Mnuchin told the GOP lawmakers on the call, which was joined by Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The state and local government aid sought by Democrats was still short of what governors and mayors say they need.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors Association, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is the association’s vice chairman, said on April 11 that without at least $500 billion, states would have to curtail essential services as tax revenue plummets and demand for resources soars.

This week’s proposed legislation is considered an interim step in efforts to prop up a U.S. economy frozen by the nationwide shutdown caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus. There’s general agreement in Congress and at the White House that a so-called phase four comprehensive economic rescue package would be needed, following the $2 trillion package approved late last month.

--With assistance from Steven T. Dennis and Justin Sink.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;
Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net;
Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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