- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Monday re-upped a list of demands that Democrats want to see in the next round of coronavirus legislation, indicating that Congress is still far apart on coalescing around another bill amid the pandemic.

“We have real problems facing this country, and it’s time for the Republicans to quit the political posturing by proposing bills they know will not pass either chamber and get serious and work with us towards a solution,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, and Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said in a joint statement.

Senate Democrats last week blocked quick action on a $250 billion boost for a popular $350 billion program that provides loans to small businesses to help them keep workers on their payroll amid the epidemic.

The “Paycheck Protection Program” had been part of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package that recently cleared Congress, but it’s in danger of running out of money because of the overwhelming demand.

On Monday, the Democratic leaders said that too many eligible small businesses are getting left out of the first round of funding and called for Small Business Administration disaster loans and grants to be increased to meet demand.

They also referred to a previous request to boost funding for SNAP benefits, or food stamps, and said the country can’t realistically open back up without an expansion in testing.

“We Democrats demand adequate funding for the production and distribution of national rapid testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — it cannot wait,” they said.

President Trump said recently that he didn’t see a national testing program as a prerequisite to reopening parts of the U.S. economy.

“The collection and publication of demographic data are also desperately needed, so that we can accurately determine the level of impact on under-served communities and communities of color and direct needed resources to them immediately,” Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said.

Many governors and political leaders have called attention to data that have shown the coronavirus is affecting minority communities disproportionately.

In response to GOP calls for an additional $250 billion for small businesses, Democrats had countered last week with their own legislative package that would have provided an additional $100 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments while boosting food stamp benefits.

It also required the Trump administration to provide regular reports on a COVID-19 testing strategy and a report by mid-May on demographic information of patients who tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, Mr. Schumer reported that he had a “constructive call” with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who has been running point for the Trump administration in the negotiations, and expressed optimism on striking a bipartisan agreement “by early next week.”

On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a joint statement saying they would continue to pursue a “clean” increase in funding for the small business lending program.

“This will not be Congress’ last word on COVID-19, but this crucial program needs funding now. American workers cannot be used as political hostages,” the Republican leaders said in a joint statement. “We hope our Democratic colleagues familiarize themselves with the facts and the data before the program runs dry.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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