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Senate deadlocks on interim measure to add stimulus money

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Credit: The Washington Post/Melina Mara

WASHINGTON — The Senate deadlocked on an interim measure to add new money to the $2 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus package passed the end of March after Democrats and Republicans rejected each other’s proposals in a short session Thursday.

Both sides acknowledged that Congress must spend more money to stabilize the economy in another relief and recovery bill, but they did not agree on the Trump administration’s request for another quick $250 billion for small business forgivable loans.

“On Tuesday morning. Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin called,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday, “and asked for a quarter of a trillion dollars in 48 hours.” She then said, “Really?” adding the House would not approve that request.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday sought unanimous consent approval of an additional $250 billion for the popular Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, which already has committed nearly a third of the $350 billion already enacted.

“It means this job saving program is attractive to small business,” McConnell said. “But it also means we need more funding and we need it fast.”

But Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) objected, blocking the measure. “This unanimous consent is basically a political stunt,” he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) then proposed an amendment to McConnell’s measure for $250 billion in addition to the $250 billion sought by Mnuchin.

The Democrats’ proposal would split off half the small business money to community lenders and banks. It would give $100 billion more to health systems, require a national testing program for coronavirus, and raise nutrition assistance by 15%.

And it would send another $150 billion to state and local governments. It would divide $65.45 billion among state governments based on population. And it would allocate  $20 billion to states based on their share of the CDC’s national coronavirus infection rate – which could send a third of that money to New York.

“We have a bipartisan request from the National Governors Association to help states and local jurisdictions. We've been on the phone nonstop with our local officials. They are running out of equipment. We've got firefighters who need help, we have emergency responders who need help,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who leads that association, and Gov. [Andrew M.] Cuomo have worked very closely together.” 

But McConnell objected.

The skirmish took place during a pro forma session of the Senate since Congress is on recess until April 20, meaning that an interim measure to add to the massive stimulus bill must be approved without objection or by voice vote.

The standoff pushes the next chance for the Senate to pass a quick injection of additional money to Monday when it holds its next pro forma session.

New York and other states, and smaller local governments, facing shrinking revenues and spiking expenses during the drastic health measures to combat spread of COVID-19 are watching the action closely.

Cuomo in his Thursday briefing repeated his plea for federal stabilization funds for New York and other states. 

He said the pandemic’s devastation of the state government’s finances is worse than after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

The state budget now faces a deficit of $10 billion to $15 billion, he said. 

“Let's see if the federal government actually does what they said they're going to do for the past several weeks, which is passing legislation that understands the level of the crisis and gets the state some funding to stabilize our finances," Cuomo said.