WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday a deal with Democrats to replenish an emergency small-business loan program is “very close” and Congress could approve additional funding for the program this week.
The program designed to keep paychecks going out to workers amid the economic shutdown caused by coronavirus was paused Thursday after it burned through its initial $350 billion.
“I think we’re very close to a deal today, and I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” Mnuchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said the deal could be approved by the Senate on Monday and the House could vote on it by Wednesday.
The program was included in a $2 trillion rescue package approved by Congress that President Donald Trump signed into law at the end of March. When it ran out of money, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other.
Democrats insisted that a bill to replenish the program should include money for hospitals and states, as well as additional protections to make sure the money is more evenly distributed after complaints that the funds had largely gone to larger corporations and chains. Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics and urged quick passage of a bill as social distancing restrictions ravaged the bottom lines of businesses. Senate Republicans tried to pass a bill April 9 to inject $250 billion into the program, but it was blocked by Democrats.
Mnuchin cited the quick depletion of the funds as evidence of the program’s success.
“We’re incredibly pleased with the participation rate, and because of that, we want Congress to approve more funds right away,” Mnuchin said. He said an additional $300 billion “should be sufficient to reach almost everybody” after dismissing some estimates that at least $1 trillion would be needed.
Mnuchin said the new bill would include $75 billion to help overwhelmed hospitals and $25 billion to increase the capacity to test for the virus. He said Trump “is willing to consider” allocating more money to the states in future legislation. Several governors have warned that their resources are depleted by the coronavirus response and that they may have to soon cut essential services.
Vice President Mike Pence agreed a deal is “very close.”
“The negotiations are going on,” Pence said. “I think every American has seen the success of the president’s program to provide payroll support, and we’re going to work to expand that so that no one working in a small business in America would have to worry about missing a paycheck.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was also optimistic a deal was near.
“I’m very hopeful we could come to an agreement tonight, or early tomorrow morning,” Schumer said on “Fox News Sunday,” though he cautioned there were “a lot of details” to work out. He said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are happy with the way the talks are going.
“Many of the things we have asked for on the banking side, on the testing side, on the hospital side, they’re going along with. So we feel pretty good,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the bill would set aside $60 billion in disaster loans “to make sure it goes to the rural areas, to the minority areas” and to businesses that did not have relationships with the banks distributing the loans. Mnuchin touted the disaster loan program as a way to get more money to smaller businesses, though he put the figure at $50 billion.
“If you had a connection with a bank, it was pretty easy to get a loan. If you didn’t – from one end of the country to the other – we have been hearing that people can’t get the loans: the local restaurant, the local barbershop, the local drugstore or even startup businesses,” Schumer said of the disbursement of the first $350 billion.
Pelosi told “Fox News Sunday” she was “very pleased at the progress being made,” and she expected there would be an agreement “soon.”
The speaker defended her efforts to add items to the legislation to refund the Paycheck Protection Program, which Republicans said delayed much-needed funds. She pushed back on the idea that House Democrats asked for too much in the new bill.
“We want to add more money there,” she said of the small-business loans. “It is very urgent though that we support our police and fire, our health care workers and our nurses, our teachers.”
“Everything that we’re doing is about the coronavirus, understand that,” she said. “We’re not going afield in any other thing.”
Though Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have touted the testing capacity of the USA as the best in the world, Mnuchin said Sunday there is wide agreement that more testing needs to be available for the country to safely begin to reopen under the three-phase plan outlined by the president last week.
“Everybody agrees we need more testing,” Mnuchin said. “We’re now up to about a million tests a week we can do, which I think should give people a lot more confidence. And that is ramping up very quickly.”
Schumer said Democrats asked for $30 billion to boost the manufacturing of the tests, increase the availability of the supplies needed to conduct the tests and “make free testing far more widespread.”
Trump suggested the states should be responsible for their own testing, but Schumer said governors “need federal help” and “can’t do the testing on their own.”
According to Schumer, when the president spoke to business leaders about what was needed to reopen the country, “the number one call was for more testing and more federal involvement in the testing. You can’t have it state by state.”
“I believe that the president hasn’t been focused enough on testing,” he said, calling for Trump to appoint a single official to oversee and coordinate the effort.