Trump, Congress near deal on small business, hospital aid

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration and Congress expect an agreement on an aid package of up to USD450 billion to boost a small-business loan programme that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

As talks continued, United States (US) President Donald Trump said there’s a “good chance” of reaching a bipartisan agreement with Democrats.

“We are very close to a deal,” Trump said on Sunday at the White House.

Along with the small business boost, Trump said the negotiators were looking at “helping our hospitals,” particularly hard-hit rural health care providers.

The Senate was scheduled for a pro forma session tomorrow, but no vote has been set.

US President Donald Trump holds a swab that could be used in coronavirus testing as he speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. PHOTO: AP

The House announced it could meet as soon as tomorrow for a vote on the pending package, according to a schedule update from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

With small-business owners reeling during a coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered much economic activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was hopeful of a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration programme back up by midweek.

“I’m hopeful that we can get that done,” Mnuchin said on Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, also said he believed a deal could be reached. “We still have a few more details to deal with,” he said.

The emerging accord links the administration’s effort to replenish a small-business with Democrats’ demands for more money for hospitals and virus testing. It would provide USD300 billion for small-business payroll programme, and USD50 billion would be available for small business disaster fund. Additionally, it would bring USD75 billion for hospitals and USD25 billion for testing, according to those involved in the talks.

On a conference call on Sunday afternoon that included Trump, Mnuchin and Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated the only remaining item for discussion involved the money for testing, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private call.

But Democrats have been insisting on boosting funding to cash-strapped states and local governments whose revenues have cratered. In weekend talks, they had proposed USD150 billion for the effort.

“We are pushing hard,” Schumer said.

But Mnuchin and McConnell reiterated on the call with senators that money for state and local governments as well as food stamps would not be included in the package, according to the GOP aide.

“The president is willing to consider that in the next bill, but wants to get this over the finish line with a focus on small businesses, hospitals and testing,” Mnuchin said.

He said he’s been in touch with GOP leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and all are “on board with the same plan.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, predicted an agreement would be reached “soon.”