Democrats counter with demands for latest coronavirus package

“The heartbreaking acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands bold, urgent and ongoing action from Congress to protect Americans’ lives and livelihoods,” Pelosi and Schumer said in the statement.

Pelosi and Schumer said Wednesday they would agree to the GOP request if certain conditions are met, such as ensuring half of the small business funding flows through “community-based” banks that serve women and minority-owned businesses. The two top Democrats want an additional $100 billion for hospitals and health centers as medical providers across the country are still struggling to secure enough personal protective equipment to safely treat the influx of coronavirus patients.

Pelosi and Schumer also want $150 billion in additional funding for state and local governments to fight the pandemic and an increase in the amount of federal food aid families can claim during this emergency.

“As Democrats have said since day one, Congress must provide additional relief for small businesses and families, building on the strong down-payment made in the bipartisan CARES Act,” they said, referring to the previously approved $2 trillion emergency relief measure.

The stance sets up a confrontation at a critical moment: Coronavirus cases are beginning to peak in some parts of the United States and the markets have been recovering due to signals of another quick congressional response. But Republicans are scoffing at the Democratic demands.

“Is the need for small businesses urgent or not? Pretty simple. If no, any member has the ability to go to the floor and object, during market hours,” said a Republican aide in response to the Pelosi and Schumer request.

However, a prolonged standoff may be untenable after the two parties’ brutal conflict preceding the $2 trillion relief bill Congress passed late last month.

The Senate has a pro forma session on Thursday, where GOP leaders were expected to try to pass the small business relief bill via unanimous consent, hoping the House would follow during its pro forma session on Friday. But a single senator or House member could object to the fast-track method, potentially derailing the bill’s passage this week.

If Schumer wants to play hardball, he or another Democrat could derail the effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass aid without a roll call vote. And conservative Republicans may object to Democrats’ attempts to expand the package, making it more unlikely the Senate can pass the bill via unanimous consent this week.

Republicans were hoping to move quickly this week to jam Democrats, essentially forcing them to accept additional funds for the small business relief program without addressing Democratic priorities — like more funding for local governments and hospitals.

McConnell announced Tuesday he was working with Schumer on an immediate infusion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses to continue paying employees and cover other expenses during the pandemic. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also reached out to congressional leaders earlier Tuesday to discuss providing immediate additional relief to the program.

But Democrats say they were blindsided by the rapid sequence of events, starting with a tweet by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Tuesday announcing the plan.

Schumer and Pelosi said the deal this week is just to provide temporary relief and they still plan to pursue a much larger legislative package in the coming weeks, as the virus continues to disrupt nearly every aspect of American life.

Vice President Mike Pence and other leaders of the coronavirus task force are set to address lawmakers Wednesday and Thursday in four separate calls with House Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

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