Congress, Trump administration close to deal on new aid package

Congress and the Trump administration are quickly nearing a more than $400 billion deal on emergency funding for small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with passage expected in the coming days.

A deal could be announced as early as Sunday or Monday, according to congressional aides. On a conference call with President Donald Trump and Republican senators on Sunday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Republicans that the only portion of the package not agreed to focused on coronavirus testing, according to a person briefed on the call. McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said the money for state and local government funding, as well as food stamp aide requested by Democrats, would not be included in the deal.

But McConnell said the deal was not yet finalized, and he was noncommittal when asked about the timing of a Senate vote on the agreement, a second person familiar with the call said. McConnell did say the Senate would work to pass the agreement as soon as possible; a pro forma session is scheduled for Monday afternoon. Trump thanked everyone on the call for their hard work on the bill. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was also on the call.

House Democrats will hold a conference call on Monday afternoon. In a separate call with her leadership team on Sunday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ticked off the “four to five outstanding items,” according to sources familiar with the call.

Word of the impending deal came after Congress allowed the small-business rescue fund it set up to exhaust its $350 billion funding capacity on Thursday, amid a standoff over Democrats’ demand that the package include aid for hospitals and state and local governments. It appears Democrats will get some of their new demands, but will have to fight for the state and local funding in the next round of aid.

The negotiations are also taking place as Trump pushes for a gradual reopening of the U.S. economy but as Republicans and Democrats disagree about how to surmount the hurdle of virus testing.

Mnuchin told host Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that there would be $300 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.

“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” Mnuchin said.

Pelosi also expressed optimism in an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Again, we have common ground,” she said. “I think we’re very close to agreement.”

Mnuchin and Pelosi’s comments were echoed across the Sunday-show circuit from Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Mnuchin, who is hopeful a deal could pass the Senate on Monday and the House on Tuesday, said he had been in contact with Republican congressional leaders and had spoken with Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning.

“We’re all on board with the same plan,” Mnuchin said on “State of the Union.”

While acknowledging that negotiations are ongoing, Pence told “Fox News Sunday” that “we are very close.” Schumer, who noted that “our staffs are meeting 24/7,” told CNN he was “very hopeful” an agreement would be reached Sunday night or early Monday.

“Many of the things we have asked for on the banking side, on the testing side, on the hospital side, they’re going along with,” Schumer said. “So we feel pretty good. We still have a few more issues to deal with.”

With PPP funding dried up, thousands of potential borrowers looking for aid during the pandemic have been shut out.

Pelosi, however, insisted that businesses would have their relief in a “timely fashion.”

“We know that we have an opportunity and an urgency to do something for our hospitals, our teachers, and firefighters, and the rest right now,” she said. “And then we are preparing for our next bill.”

Congress has faced pressure to pass PPP funding unanimously, as soon as possible. That pressure has mounted with reports that more than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs over the past month. But Democrats want some of the money to be set aside for communities with few banking institutions. And they’ve pushed for more money for state governments, local governments and hospitals.

Any member can object to a deal, so congressional leaders would need to run it by their members to see how to pass the legislation. It’s an open question whether the bill would require a roll call vote if someone objected to its passage.

House Democrats predict the earliest they could call a vote would be Wednesday.

Senior Democrats currently expect at least one Republican to object to passing the relief package via voice vote and are preparing to alert members that they may need to fly back to Washington.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Republicans would probably demand a roll call vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Democrats on the leadership call on Sunday.

The House could also move this week to temporarily change its rules to allow members to vote via proxy on future coronavirus relief packages. The vote, which would probably occur after passing the interim package, would be a historic change that senior lawmakers in both parties have long resisted.

After a partisan standoff, multiple sources in both parties said on Saturday that notable progress had been made on brokering a tentative deal.

Over the last 48 hours, Trump has repeatedly attacked Pelosi and those he has labeled “Do Nothing Democrats,” asserting they are costing Americans jobs by blocking new PPP funds.

“Nancy Pelosi is blocking it. She sits in her house in San Francisco, overlooking the ocean, and she doesn't want to come back. She doesn't want to come back,” Trump said at the White House on Saturday during his coronavirus briefing.

On Sunday, Pelosi brushed his comments aside.

“I don’t pay that much attention to the president’s tweets against me,” she said. “As I’ve said, he’s a poor leader. He’s always trying to avoid responsibility and assign blame.”

She called the president’s embrace of opening up the country quickly a distraction from the fact that Trump did not act appropriately on testing, treatment, contact tracing and quarantine.

Pelosi said everything Congress had done on pandemic relief — the three bills put forward in March — were bipartisan, and that’s how things would stay.

She is open to the idea of proxy voting, a change suggested by the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), that would be temporary and likely apply only to emergency coronavirus legislation. Pelosi said there would need to be a vote to change House rules, which should also be done in a bipartisan fashion.

“We have a template,” she said. “We’ve done it once. We can do it again.”

Following Pelosi’s appearance on the president’s favorite news channel, Trump called the most powerful woman in the country “dumb” and warned that Fox News host Chris Wallace and the channel itself were “on a bad path.”

“Nervous Nancy is an inherently ‘dumb’ person,” Trump wrote. “She wasted all of her time on the Impeachment Hoax. She will be overthrown, either by inside or out, just like her last time as ‘Speaker.’”

Heather Caygle and Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.

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