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Daines, Tester debate coronavirus stimulus package; agree on some measures

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, third from left, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland, left, walk to a Monday meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at his Capitol Hill office. (Andrew Harnik/AP photo via Courthouse News)

Montana’s two U.S. Senators on Monday both agreed that employees who have lost a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, or small businesses that have seen revenues dwindle, need relief and fast.

But Senate Democrats on Monday for the second time blocked an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package due to what they see as a lack of oversight placed upon certain industries in line to receive support.

Negotiations remain ongoing, though Sen. Jon Tester on Monday said the proposed $500 billion in loans and guaranties for certain industries lack needed guidelines on how they can spend the emergency funding.

“Instead of investing in those folks hardest hit by this crisis, it creates a nearly $500 billion dollar slush fund to bail out large corporations with taxpayer money – with virtually no guardrails on spending, layoffs, or stock buybacks at workers’ expense,” Tester said.

The proposed legislation would deliver $1,200 in checks to most U.S. adults and $500 to most children. It would also establish a $350 billion loan program for small businesses, helping them maintain payroll during the economic crisis prompted by the virus.

The measure would also provide a six-month deferral on Small Business Loans.

“This is a time we need to come together,” said Sen. Steve Daines, who supported the measure. “This is a time we need to get this done for the good of the country. Neither side is going to be happy with the final product. That’s part of negotiation. The Senate bill before us provides relief for workers, families, small businesses and healthcare professions.”

The stimulus package would mark the third phase of emergency measures passed by Congress this month. Phase 1 included funding for the CDC and states to ramp up coronavirus measures while Phase 2 expanded food and healthcare assistance.

Phase 3, or the stimulus package, would help major industries like airlines and hospitality, which have lost billions of dollars in revenue due to the virus and employ tens of thousands of workers. It would also provide relief to small businesses and increase unemployment insurance to $600 a week in addition to what is received under current state law.

Tester and other Democrats believe certain aspects of the stimulus needs sideboards.

“I remain hopeful my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can come together to hammer out a good deal that actually works for Montana’s serious needs,” he said.

But Daines said another day without an approved package is another day Montanans continue to worry.

“We are in a public health and economic crisis,” he said. “I have not sensed fear like this from the American people at any time in my life. We can’t continue squabbling and arguing here in the U.S. Senate. Time is not on our side. Each day matters. In fact, each hour matters.”