U.S. lawmakers argue over coronavirus response as small business program runs out

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers argued Thursday about what the next coronavirus rescue package should include as a program to help small businesses ran out of money and the economy continued to struggle from a monthlong shutdown.

The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Thursday he saw no reason to give Democrats any concessions to secure new funding to help small businesses grappling with the coronavirus outbreak.

“Why would you have to offer a fig leaf?” Kevin McCarthy told reporters at a news briefing, saying the money is needed to keep people employed by small businesses. “Why in the world with a pandemic going on would you have to do a fig leaf? … We’re not asking for a new bill. All we’re asking is more resources for the successful parts of the bill to move forward.”

A $350 billion emergency loan program approved by Congress last month and designed to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls during the coronavirus disruption has run out of funds, the U.S. Small Business Administration said earlier Thursday. Meanwhile officials said a record 22 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits over the past month.

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans say the next coronavirus response bill, the fourth of the crisis, should simply add $250 billion to the small business program to help preserve businesses and jobs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday Democrats “fully want” to give small businesses more money but are also urging more funding for state and local governments and hospitals coping with the pandemic.

“We hope the administration will recognize those needs,” she told reporters in a conference call. “We don’t have any disagreement about wanting to help small businesses.”

Pelosi said she would meet again o Thursday with the administration and “we are hopeful they will come back with something that strikes a balance.”

With President Donald Trump preparing to announce new guidelines to reopen the economy after a monthlong shutdown over the coronavirus outbreak, and naming a bipartisan task force of lawmakers to advise him on it, Pelosi said any transition to a reopened economy should be based on science and testing.

“We shouldn’t be having a conversation about how many people (are) OK to die, for us to open up,” she said.

Pelosi also said House Democrats are examining the possibility of remote voting, but so far had not found good ways to accomplish it, and “we can’t have it before we are ready.”

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Reuters

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