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Senate set to pass small business loan deal with agreement in hand

WASHINGTON (CN) — Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration reached agreement Tuesday to put hundreds of billions of dollars into a small business loan program while also funding testing and hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are still a few more i’s to dot and t’s to cross, but we have a deal and I believe we’ll pass it today,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said this morning in an interview on CNN.

If a deal has been finalized, it could pass the Senate as soon as Tuesday afternoon when the chamber is scheduled to gavel in for a pro forma session. House leadership has told members a vote could come in the House as soon as Thursday and that lawmakers may have to return to Washington to pass the legislation.

The details of the proposal are not yet final or public, but the package is expected to come in at more than $450 billion. The main provision in the deal is additional funding for Paycheck Protection Program, a federal initiative that gives small businesses loans that can be forgiven if companies use the money to cover certain expenses like payroll, rent and utilities. The new funding is expected be well above $300 billion, significantly more than the $250 billion the White House first requested.

The program last week ran out of the $350 billion it received in a $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic response package, and Republicans sought to replenish the program as a standalone measure. But Democrats blocked the effort as they held out for additional money for hospitals and other initiatives including a national testing program.

As of Friday, when the program stopped approving new loans due to lack of funding, the Paycheck Protection Program had approved more than 1.6 million loans for a total of $342 billion. More than 75% of those loans were for $150,000 or less, though there has been widespread outrage over large publicly traded companies and restaurant chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse receiving loans under the program.

Schumer said Tuesday the testing program was the last sticking point in negotiations over the legislation, but that Democrats and Trump administration locked down an agreement after midnight. The deal is also expected to include additional funding for hospitals and for a separate small business loan program that is also out of money.

A spokesman for McConnell did not immediately return a request for comment on Schumer’s confidence in an agreement.

Congress is out of town until at least the beginning of May due to the pandemic, meaning no legislation can pass without unanimous support. While that is expected to happen in the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members on Monday night that some House Republicans will likely object to a voice vote on the legislation, a move that would force lawmakers to approve the measure in person at the Capitol.

Representative Thomas Massie, R-Ky., did just that for the $2.2 trillion economic package that passed Congress last month, causing members to fill the gallery above the House floor so they could maintain social distancing while passing the bill.

Hoyer also told members the House is expected to consider a measure allowing for remote voting when it comes in to pass the new funding package.