White House and congressional negotiators are optimistic they can reach a deal as early as Sunday to approve $300bn more for a small business lending programme that has already helped secure paychecks for nearly 30 million Americans this month.
“I’m hopeful that we can reach an agreement, that the Senate can pass this tomorrow, and that the House can take it up on Tuesday. And Wednesday we’d be back up and running,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has become Donald Trump’s chief liaison to Congress to help package together the federal government’s economic response to the crisis, told CNN.
Democratic leaders echoed Mr Mnuchin’s optimism for a deal on Sunday, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying he’s “very hopeful” negotiators could reach an agreement “tonight or early tomorrow.”
“We still have a few more details to deal with,” Mr Schumer said in an interview with CNN.
Since 7 April, Republicans had been clamouring for Democrats to join them in passing an additional $251bn for the paycheck protection programme (PPP) on top of the $350bn Treasury has already doled out to small businesses through banks.
Democrats, meanwhile, have raised concerns that that money has not been distributed equitably to minority-, women-, tribal-, and veteran-owned businesses that don’t have relationships with large banks. They have been Republicans to agree to set aside $60bn for “community development financial institutions” that provide capital to small businesses in poor and otherwise underserved communities.
They have also asked for billions more in funding for state and local governments, hospitals, and a 15 percent increase in the maximum food stamp benefit.
The contours of the soon-to-be-struck deal that Mnuchin outlined on Sunday appear to include some of those Democratic priorities: $300bn in additional funding for PPP, $50bn for Treasury’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan programme, $75bn more for hospitals, and $25bn to ramp up nationwide testing efforts.
For now, the White House will not support new money for state and local governments since not all of the money allocated to them in the so-called CARES Act passed in March has been disbursed.
Democrats appear to be getting roughly half of the $150bn they initially requested for states and localities in the interim relief bill.
Still, Democratic leaders were planting the flag of incremental victory on Sunday.
“The very things that we Democrats have been fighting for are now going into the bill,” Mr Schumer said.
Mr Mnuchin said he was hopeful the economy will not take as long to recover from the health crisis as some experts have predicted. Some economists have suggested the US is at the dawn of a recession that will take years to climb out of.
More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits within the last four weeks. That’s roughly 13.4 percent of the country’s labor force.
“I think it will be months. I definitely don’t think it will be years,” Mr Mnuchin said of the economic recovery. “We are going to conquer this virus,” he said.