New pressure on US lawmakers as virus aid for firms hits limit

WASHINGTON (AP) – Lawmakers are struggling to break a stalemate over United States (US) President Donald Trump’s USD250 billion emergency request for a small-business programme, stoking uncertainty about when additional support will be available in a key rescue programme now exhausted of funds.

A Senate session quickly adjourned without any progress, though staff aides to House and Senate Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin convened another conference call, on legislation to shore up the Paycheck Protection Programme and demands by Democrats for potential additions. The Small Business Administration announced on Thursday it has reached its USD349 billion lending limit and is no longer accepting applications, and Trump immediately weighed in on Twitter to bash Democrats.

“Democrats are blocking additional funding for the popular Paycheck Protection Programme. They are killing American small businesses. Stop playing politics Dems! Support Refilling PPP NOW – it is out of funds!” Trump wrote.

GOP aides said that Mnuchin is prepared to accept additional funding sought by Democrats for hospitals, but that additional aid to state and local governments couldn’t get approval in the current round.

The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to characterise internal party deliberations.

Thursday’s Senate session featured a short speech by a frustrated majority leader, Mitch McConnell, but no effort to pass Trump’s USD250 billion request – or to shame Democrats, were they to block it as they did last week. Instead, McConnell said that he had cleared the USD250 billion package on the GOP side but that Democrats would have stopped it.

“Democrats would not let us reopen the programme,” McConnell said. “This really should be above politics.”

The Senate is away from Washington through May 4, but it convenes twice each week for pro forma sessions that could be used to pass more coronavirus aid – though only if no senator objects. The next Senate pro forma is on Monday afternoon.