By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional leaders will hold bipartisan negotiations on a new coronavirus-response bill with the goal of reaching a deal by early next week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday.
One day after Republicans failed to ram through the Senate a $250 billion increase in loans for small businesses suffering due to the outbreak, Schumer said in a statement that he had had a “constructive” conversation with Mnuchin.
Democrats support the $250 billion in new funding but want to set aside some of the lending for community and minority-owned banks.
Besides the small-business funding, Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are seeking another funding stream of more than $250 billion. It would be dedicated to helping hospitals dealing with surges in patients infected with the coronavirus and aid to state and local governments, along with expanded food aid for the poor.
Republicans oppose this second batch of funding, saying it is premature.
Democrats call this an “interim” bill to approve before moving onto a potentially broader measure to further help the economy recover from a massive increase in unemployment and business slowdowns as Americans stay at home and wait for the virus to be brought under control.
“There’s no reason why we can’t come to a bipartisan agreement by early next week,” Schumer said.
Aides to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no comment on the possibility of a deal early next week.
And at a mid-afternoon coronavirus news conference, Trump did not signal a willingness to give in to Democrats’ demands.
Asked if he would agree to a bill that includes more money for hospitals and state and local governments, Trump said: “I think the hospitals need help — I am OK with that.” But he said such aid should be provided in legislation further down the road.
The $250 billion in small-business loans, which could turn into government-paid grants if certain terms are met, would be in addition to $349 billion already allocated by Congress.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that 661,000 loans to small business totaling $168 billion had been approved under the program to address fallout from the pandemic.
Last month, Mnuchin led the Trump administration’s negotiations with congressional leaders on initial coronavirus aid bills, including the $2.3 trillion economic stimulus measure enacted on March 27.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)