U.S. Democrats push wider emergency coronavirus funds than Trump seeks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. Democrats in Congress on Wednesday said they would back President Donald Trump administration’s request for $250 billion more in aid for small businesses in the coronavirus pandemic if it includes additional money for hospitals, local governments and food assistance.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in a statement, said Congress would then have to work on passing another measure aimed at further expanding relief after the interim emergency funding bill passed.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the request for additional aid on Tuesday amid overwhelming demand for federal small-business loans as restaurants, hotels and other stores shuttered and Americans sheltered at home in an effort to stop the spread of the fast-spreading virus.

The $250 billion in loans, which would turn into grants if basic lending requirements are met, would be on top of $349 billion that began flowing last Friday.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to hold separate telephone briefings for House Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday about the administration’s coronavirus response.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who initially had been skeptical of the need for more U.S. funding, on Tuesday said he would seek to pass the additional aid on Thursday. But aides to McConnell would not comment on whether he supports Democrats’ call for funding beyond the $250 billion for small business.

McConnell said he would collaborate with Mnuchin and Schumer to use expedited Senate procedures to try to pass the $250 billion request.

Senator Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate Small Business Administration, said in a tweet that McConnell has given lawmakers until noon on Wednesday to say whether they object to the small-business relief measure. A single objection would prevent the Senate from passing the measure on Thursday by unanimous consent.

Most lawmakers are not in Washington and regular business of the Senate and House is on hold at least until April 20 when the current recess is set to end, although it could be extended.

Pelosi would have to either get her 429-member chamber to go along with a “voice vote” to approve the Senate measure or call lawmakers to Washington to muster a majority of the House in support of final passage.

Mnuchin, in an interview with CNBC, assured small businesses that “we will not run out of money” for the program to keep them afloat and expressed the hope that Congress approves the additional money by Friday.

So far, 30,000 people have signed up for the emergency relief for small business with 3,500 banks participating in the program, Mnuchin told CNBC.

McConnell and Pelosi aides had no immediate comment on exactly what bill will be sent to the Senate and House floors for passage or timing for approval.

Pelosi earlier this week told House Democrats that additional federal aid costing more than $1 trillion was needed. This would follow the March 27 enactment of $2.3 trillion in economic stimulus and other coronavirus-related aid.

Pelosi and Schumer said $125 billion of the $250 billion in small-business aid must be allocated to community banks that serve farmers and nonprofit organizations as well as minority, women and veteran-owned companies.

The bill must also include $100 billion for hospitals and other health care facilities, $150 billion for U.S. states and local governments, and a 15% increase for federal nutrition program benefits, they said.

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