WASHINGTON – Sen. Mitch McConnell said congressional leaders reached a deal Tuesday to revive a program geared to keep small businesses from shuttering and their employees from going on unemployment because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The nearly half-trillion deal will provide more funds to the Paycheck Protection Program, which was halted last week after it ran out of money.
McConnell, R-Ky., lauded the deal as a "bipartisan agreement."
The $484 billion bill will inject the program, which provides loans to small businesses, with more than $320 billion, according to McConnell. A portion will be set aside for smaller businesses that don't have established relationships with banks and had a harder time accessing the funds in the first round of loans. It will also bolster the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program, which had also dried up due to the coronavirus.
The deal also includes $75 billion to help overwhelmed hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing, two provisions Democrats pushed for in negotiations.
A copy of the bill was still not available as of Tuesday afternoon, as negotiators worked to finalize the text before the Senate's expected vote on the bill later Tuesday. If approved by both the House and Senate, it could go to President Donald Trump for approval later this week.
Congressional leaders and the Trump administration have been haggling for weeks over details in the new plan. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked Congress earlier this month for an additional $250 billion in emergency funds to bolster the program. But Democrats objected to the GOP offer, demanding more money for hospitals, state and local governments, and food stamp benefits.
Congressional Republicans blamed Democrats for the funding lapse, arguing they were holding hostage money that was desperately needed for businesses and workers.
In announcing a deal had been made, McConnell blamed Democrats for the delay.
"I am encouraged that Democratic leaders have finally agreed to reopen the Paycheck Protection Program and abandon a number of their unrelated demands," McConnell said in a statement. "Republicans never wanted this crucial program for workers and small businesses to shut down. We tried to pass additional funding a week before it lapsed. But Democratic leaders blocked the money and spent days trying to negotiate extraneous issues that were never on the table. I am grateful our colleagues have walked away from those demands and will finally let Congress act."
Trump has signaled he's ready to sign an agreement that comes out of Congress.
"I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding for PPP, Hospitals, and Testing," Trump said in a tweet Tuesday. "After I sign this Bill, we will begin discussions on the next Legislative Initiative with fiscal relief to State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID 19, much needed Infrastructure Investments for Bridges, Tunnels, Broadband, Tax Incentives for Restaurants, Entertainment, Sports, and Payroll Tax Cuts to increase Economic Growth."
Getting the bill across the finish line could pose some difficulties. The House and Senate are planning to keep its members home to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Instead, the chambers plan to pass the bill by unanimous consent, a procedure that would allow just one lawmaker to object and force an in-person vote.
McConnell said Monday it was unclear whether the measure could pass through unanimously in the Senate, and he wouldn't know "until we have a product" and final text released.
The House is set to take up the measure on Thursday but some of its members have already signaled issues with provisions in the deal.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has voiced grievances as have some progressive House Democrats.
"I am not here for a $5 bill, and I will not insult my community with that," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Monday, explaining she wanted more and did not support the bill currently but was waiting for the final text.
The program was provided $349 billion as part of the massive economic stimulus package approved in March. It launched April 3 and processed 1.6 million loan application before funds ran out on Thursday.