With Congress feuding, a small business deal seems elusive

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats and Republicans in Congress feuded on Monday over who was responsible for delay even as they worked on details of a possible $450 billion-plus deal to provide more aid to small businesses and hospitals hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media after a meeting in the office of House U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to wrap up work on coronavirus economic aid legislation, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert – RC25PF9NX45Y/File Photo

“We could have been done yesterday, but the Democrats continue to hold up, even though we had agreed to all the numbers,” Republican Kevin McCarthy, House of Representatives minority leader, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump said on Sunday his fellow Republicans were close to an agreement with Democrats. He suggested there could be a resolution on Monday, but by Monday afternoon, there was as yet no deal.

An agreement would end a stalemate over Trump’s request to add to a small-business loan program. Congress set up the program last month as part of a $2.3 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan, but it has already run out of money.

At a brief Monday afternoon session of the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Senate leaders had arranged for the chamber to meet again on Tuesday, providing another opportunity for a vote if a deal is struck by then.

“The Senate, regretfully, will not be able to pass more money for funding America’s paychecks today. However, since this is so urgent, I’ve asked that the Senate meet again tomorrow … and the Democratic leader has agreed to my request,” McConnell, a Republican, said. “Colleagues, it’s past time, past time, to get this done for the country.”

McConnell complained that an agreement had not been reached because “our Democratic colleagues are still prolonging their discussions with the (Trump) administration.” In the House, McCarthy also blamed Democrats for delay.

“How many more millions of (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi’s layoffs will we have to endure before she will put people before politics?” McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, shot back that Democrats, who have the majority in the House, have given notice that there could be floor action on a bill as soon as Wednesday.

Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican, said on Fox News that a bipartisan deal was looking good that would include $310 billion for small business aid.

Zeldin said there would be at least $50 billion more for a separate small business loan program under the deal still under negotiation. A Democratic source familiar with the talks has said this figure was more likely to be $60 billion.

“I believe that there is a deal coming,” Zeldin said.

The Democratic source, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said some $60 billion of the $310 billion was likely to be set aside for minority and rural businesses.

The Democrats also sought more funds for state and local governments and hospitals, as well as food aid for the poor. Republicans have strongly resisted these proposals, although Trump said on Sunday he favored more aid for state and local governments and said that could be done at a later date.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said aid for states and municipalities will not be included in the package now being negotiated. Cassidy, whose home state of Louisiana has been among those hit hardest by the outbreak, told reporters it was too early to assess the extent of the damage.

“It’s not in this package,” he said.

The lack of more funds for state and local governments was one reason a leading progressive Democrat, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said she expected to oppose the bill.

“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money in the context of not even knowing when Congress is going to reconvene … pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back, and then leave town again,” she said during a conference call. Ocasio-Cortez represents a district of New York City that has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis

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