Democrats and GOP on collision course over new emergency relief package

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he US Capitol Building is pictured at dusk in Washington, DC, on July 29, 2011.

Democratic leaders are on a collision course with top Republicans over the next round of emergency funding to help the struggling economy, with the two sides at odds over the scope of a package that GOP leaders are pushing to immediately approve in the Senate.

While leaders in both parties support a quick infusion of cash for small businesses, the efforts to quickly pass a new package is running into the realities of Congress — where every member needs to sign off in order to ensure a bill can become law without lawmakers having to return to Washington. Adding to the challenges: A conservative House Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, warned he’s ready to again force lawmakers to return to Washington amid the public health crisis because of his concerns over the measure.

The latest round of jockeying came after the White House proposed an additional $251 billion for a small business loan program that was enacted as part of the new $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package, the largest rescue measure in US history. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would move to quickly approve the bill in his chamber on Thursday, with calls from the Trump administration for the House to quickly clear the plan by Friday.

But on Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer laid out several major demands, including $150 billion for state and local governments, $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers and more money for food stamp programs. In addition, the Democrats said half of the money in the $251 billion for the small business program should be directed toward local lenders that benefit farmers, women, veterans and minority-owned companies.

On a conference call with her caucus Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi said that the House will attempt to pass by unanimous consent any deal reached with the White House, something that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed optimism could occur by Friday. She explained that while she’s optimistic about the small business program, she raised concerns that not all loans are reaching communities who need it, citing that as a reason why they are asking for changes to the program.

“The bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the House. It just won’t,” Pelosi said Wednesday on NPR.

With lawmakers away from Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic, leaders on both sides will have to agree to move on the plan so it can be approved quickly — because any single lawmaker can object and effectively force members to return to the Capitol to approve the package, delaying final action for days.

On Wednesday, Massie once again signaled he’s willing to force lawmakers to return to Washington, as he did last month when the House was pushing through the massive stimulus plan — prompting a furious backlash from both parties and President Donald Trump.

“That’s not going to fly,” Massie told Fox Business about efforts to push the measure through by unanimous consent. He instead called for the ability of House lawmakers to vote remotely, something that Pelosi doesn’t yet support, citing in part the lack of security that currently exists in order to pull off such a sweeping change to the institution.

Talks to avoid a stalemate are expected to continue Wednesday, and Schumer spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his plan, according to a Schumer spokesman.

McConnell has yet to officially comment on the Democrats’ latest proposal — but the GOP is signaling that it believes the small business lending program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, should be the initial priority — and the other items should wait until the next round of talks.

“With PPP actually in operation, we know for sure that there will be a problem and that it needs cash now,” said one official involved in the talks. “For the others that they’ve identified, they haven’t even started yet, so no idea about run rates, exhaustion, etc.”

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, added that the GOP leader’s preference is to prioritize the small business program.

On Wednesday, McConnell started the process to move for quick passage by Thursday of the $251 billion for additional small business loans — without including the list of Democratic demands outlined by Pelosi and Schumer, according to GOP sources.

McConnell has checked with senators to determine whether any of them will object to moving just the $251 billion package.

Democrats are likely to do just that and object to passing the $251 billion package if their demands aren’t met, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars for hospitals and state and local governments, according to Democratic sources.

That means on the floor Thursday morning, each side could present dueling bills that will fail to clear the Senate — unless a deal is reached to avoid an impasse.

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