Analysis: Senate Democrats Object to Clean, Bipartisan, Standalone Bill to Help Small Businesses Keep Workers Employed

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Posted: Apr 09, 2020 12:59 PM
Analysis: Senate Democrats Object to Clean, Bipartisan, Standalone Bill to Help Small Businesses Keep Workers Employed

Two weeks ago, the US Senate passed a $2 trillion relief Coronavirus package, overcoming days of Democratic filibusters by slightly altering the final product.  The result was a 96-0 vote.  Much of that leviathan is still in the early stages of implementation, and it seems wise to wait and see what actually works -- and doesn't work -- before passing a 'phase four' bill with another mammoth tranche of money.  One common sense exception appears to be in the realm of paycheck protection support for millions of workers, in the form of forgivable loans to small businesses.  This provision of the 'phase three' bill was explicitly designed to heavily incentivize keeping people on payrolls while the economy has been ground to a standstill, as a result of the pandemic.  

Processing the crush of loan applications has proven very rocky and frustrating for many small businesses, as days-old mechanisms are straining under pressure -- an unfortunate, if understandable, byproduct of standing up such a massive system in such short order.  More than $100 billion in these loans have been approved, and it appears as though this fund will need replenishing very soon.  Given that this program, a core element of the recent legislation, was hammered out by Senators from both parties and enjoyed broad bipartisan support, reloading it with needed funds in support of a clear and uncontroversial purpose seems like a legislative layup.  Alas, as Reagan noted earlier, the layup was blocked.  Even CNN, which isn't an outlet known for carrying water for GOP narratives, didn't attempt (well, at first) to spin this headline:


Details:

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a Republican push to unanimously pass a bill to put $250 billion more into a loan program for small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.  With only a few senators in the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to approve the measure by a unanimous vote. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., objected to the request, stalling the legislation. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said he was not “talking about changing any policy language” the parties negotiated last month as part of an unprecedented $2 trillion emergency spending package. He urged Democrats not to “block emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more” — tweaks to the small business aid program and more emergency funding for hospitals and states, a proposal Democratic leaders outlined Wednesday.  After Cardin rejected the measure, he called McConnell’s move to pass the funding a “political stunt.”

A "stunt"?  That's what he calls a clean, standalone infusion of cash infusion for the program he himself co-authored?  After Democrats objected, McConnell adjourned the Senate until next week. As several people noted, Cardin blocked the 'refilling' of a provision he specifically helped author:


Rubio is correct: Democrats offered their own amendment to this effort, which would have turned a simple, straightforward reload of a popular and desperately-needed program for small businesses into a much larger bill with various new tentacles:


To be clear, some of these ideas are worthy, but that's not the point here.  The point is that only one segment of the 'phase three' bill is running out of needed cash quickly.  Additional funds for other purposes may well become necessary, and should be included when inevitable 'phase four' legislation gets crafted and debated.  It seems unwise to shovel untold billions out the door when untold trillions are already in the process of being shoveled out the door -- yes, even in an emergency.  Replenishing the small business funds is a concrete, discrete, sensible step that doesn't build out any new legislation.  It tops off an emptying tank that was just created by Congress to serve an urgent need.  And on the same day that 6.6 million more Americans filed initial jobless claims, that no-brainer step was rejected by Democrats.  I'll leave you with McConnell making the case for unanimous consent passage, with Cardin beginning to object to adding funds to his own program at the tail end:

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