Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration will talk through the weekend to try to strike a deal on an emergency bill to replenish a program to buoy small businesses pummeled by the coronavirus, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday.
The New York Democrat sounded optimistic about reaching an agreement a day after the Small Business Administration said the $349 billion loan program approved last month had reached its cap of commitments. Senate Republicans tried to pass a plan last week to inject $250 billion more into it, but Democrats blocked it as they pushed for tweaks to the program along with funding for hospitals and state and local governments.
It is unclear how many small businesses have received money from the program.
Staff from Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's offices have held discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week on an interim rescue bill — which Senate Republicans may or may not choose to support.
"We've had constructive talks. They're going to continue through the weekend, and I don't see any reason why we can't come to an agreement soon," Schumer told the MSNBC program "Morning Joe."
Schumer has faced criticism for delaying more funding for the program, which is designed to keep workers on small business payrolls. On Friday, he said, "it's vital we help small business, but if we don't deal with the testing and health-care problems, if we don't deal with local government problems, small business may have enough money to get back, although we've got to fix that program, but people won't go out on the streets."
The senator noted that President Donald Trump sounded more hopeful about talks on Thursday night. At a White House coronavirus briefing, the president said he expected "something's going to be happening."
Democrats pushed for at least another $250 billion for hospitals, states and municipalities fighting the pandemic, along with food assistance programs. They also wanted to put only $125 billion directly into the existing small business loan program, and direct another $125 billion to community-based lenders and SBA disaster assistance loans and grants.
The party's leaders have said the structure of the relief in the $2 trillion package passed last month left out businesses who do not already have a banking relationship.
Republicans have argued their counterparts hung small businesses and their employees out to dry by not approving the money last week.
"This did not have to happen. Republicans have been sounding the alarm for more than a week," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a joint statement Wednesday as the loan program neared its commitment limit.
Neither chamber of Congress plans to return to Washington until early May. Lawmakers can pass bills with only a few members present, but they need a broad consensus on the legislation to do so.
The coronavirus outbreak continues to rip through the U.S. as Congress struggles to reach agreement on how to respond to the evolving crisis. Covid-19 has now infected at least 671,000 people nationwide and led to more than 33,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
At the same time, shutdowns implemented to limit the pandemic's spread have led to a staggering 22 million claims for unemployment insurance over the latest four weeks.
Democrats hope to pass a separate plan to expand key provisions of the $2 trillion rescue plan, including direct payments to Americans and strengthened unemployment insurance.