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The White House and bipartisan lawmakers struggled to get on the same page on how to pass an additional $250 billion for struggling small businesses with a skeleton crew of lawmakers in Washington amid the coronavirus crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had wanted to push through the quarter-trillion-dollar funding package as soon as Thursday by unanimous consent that wouldn’t require the full Senate to vote in person. The hope was the House could also pass this interim package — dubbed a Phase 3.5 of coronavirus spending efforts — by Friday with minimal attendance, to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
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But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a narrow infusion of cash for the small business loan program won’t pass unanimously in the Democrat-led House. She and Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer pitched their own plan: pass the $250 billion for small business aid that Republicans want but add in another $250 billion for their priorities, including funding hospitals and state and local governments.
But by Wednesday evening, Pelosi revealed that the White House rejected their deal and it was not immediately clear whether the small business fund — which has been inundated with applications from companies ravaged by coronavirus shutdowns — would be replenished in the coming days.
“You know, the White House says they don’t support that, but we do,” Pelosi told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Wednesday.
And even if there was a deal in place between the White House, McConnell and Pelosi, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., seemed determined to again prevent the House from taking a vote without the majority of House members present.
“Once again, they’re recommending [to] just let Nancy Pelosi pass it on her own — that we could all stay home,” Massie told Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto on Wednesday. “And I’m saying that’s not gonna fly. It doesn’t fly with the Constitution. It doesn’t fly for accountability to the taxpayers.”
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Massie was dubbed the “most hated” man in Washington when he required the majority of the lawmakers to fly back to D.C. last month to pass the $2 trillion CARES Act, the massive coronavirus stimulus relief bill that leadership wanted to pass by a barebones voice vote for public health reasons.
Massie wants the House to implement remote electronic voting, but there’s no immediate measure in place for that. The only way the House and Senate can pass another spending infusion with minimal attendance is if there are no objections.
Pelosi said the McConnell plan — just the narrow $250 billion to shore up the dwindling $350 billion small business fund — can’t pass in the House objection-free.
“The bill that they put forth … will not get unanimous support in the House,” Pelosi told NPR. “It just won’t.”
With no agreement in place, a standoff scenario could take place Thursday and Friday at the Capitol while the vast majority of elected members are home on recess.
If McConnell goes ahead with his narrow $250 billion small business plan and tries to approve it via unanimous consent, he is essentially daring Senate Democrats to object.
Then, on Friday, the House Democrats could offer their plan in the House session and try to get it approved via unanimous consent, likewise daring House Republicans — including Massie — to object.
If the Senate and House separately approve different bills, they would be at an impasse and would have to figure out a way to meld the bills together. Or they could set the stage for a fourth round of coronavirus funding — another massive spending plan to revive the economy.