Congress in standoff on virus aid, but first checks coming

Standoff over virus aid

Congress is rushing headlong into a conflict over the next coronavirus aid package as the White House wants to pump $250 billion into a small business fund but opposes Democrats' proposal to tack on billions for protective gear, food stamps and support to state and local governments.

An attempt for a Thursday vote in the Senate will pose a first test.

Despite the urgency to act, it's a sudden breakdown over what all sides agree is the need for federal help as the pandemic crisis roars through communities large and small, and Washington prepares to go beyond the $2.2 trillion package approved just two weeks ago.

President Donald Trump urged passage of the small business funds “ASAP.”

Still, signs of potential progress emerged Wednesday in Washington's effort to push cash out the door to suddenly out-of-work Americans and shuttered businesses.

The first tranche of $1,200 direct payments to Americans are set to begin next week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told House Democrats during a conference call with the administration's coronavirus task force.

Mnuchin also told the lawmakers that $98 billion in loans for small businesses has been approved under the program which the Trump administration wants Congress to bolster in Thursday's vote, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the private call and granted anonymity.

But the White House opposes a proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to add another $250 billion for other needs, according to a senior administration official unauthorized to discuss the situation and granted anonymity.

The White House prefers quick passage of infusion for small business payrolls, the official said.

That leads to the standoff because without bipartisan co-operation, no proposal is likely to be approved as Congress is all but shuttered amid the virus outbreak.

Pelosi said flatly the Republican-only proposal would face objections in the House.

"We have to spend what we need,” Pelosi told NPR, when asked if there were limits on federal aid.

Vice-President Mike Pence convened private conference calls Wednesday with House Republicans and Democrats, in separate sessions with Mnuchin and the task force, to brief far-flung lawmakers on the response to the crisis.

Part of the sweeping $2.2 trillion package that became law just two weeks ago, the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program has been swamped as businesses rush to apply for up to $10 million in forgivable loans to keep paychecks flowing amid the stay-home shutdown.

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