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Schumer sees quick coronavirus aid deal

Friday morning call between Schumer and Mnuchin signals movement

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Friday that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has agreed to bipartisan talks on a new coronavirus economic aid package, which the New York Democrat said could lead to a deal by early next week.

A stalemate emerged Thursday over next steps for Congress to provide financial relief for the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Republicans attempted to add $251 billion to a dwindling fund for small-business loans, as Democrats pushed for a broader relief effort. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought unanimous consent for legislation to replenish the loan fund, but Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin objected.

[No deal on fresh coronavirus aid package]

There is disagreement over how quickly more money is needed for small-business loans and whether the next economic aid package must include more funding for hospitals and state and local governments, among other things.

But the Friday morning phone call between Schumer and Mnuchin signaled that the White House and Democrats in Congress are willing to come to the table.

“There’s no reason why we can’t come to a bipartisan agreement by early next week,” Schumer said in a statement.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office released a statement later on Friday, saying the California Democrat also spoke with Mnuchin.

During the Friday phone call, Pelosi reiterated Democrats’ demand that the next spending bill “not solidify the disparity in access to capital faced by many small businesses in underserved areas” and include more funding for hospitals as well as state and local governments.

Pelosi also called for the “four corners” of congressional leadership to begin talks “so that Congress can move expeditiously on an interim package,” according to Drew Hammill, the speaker’s deputy chief of staff.

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Part of the $2.3 trillion financial rescue package enacted last month included $349 billion in loans for a new “Paycheck Protection Program” to encourage small businesses to keep workers on their payrolls.

The Trump administration requested an additional $251 billion this week, citing surging demand for loans. The GOP effort to fulfill the administration’s request was derailed Thursday after McConnell, R-Ky., objected to Democrats’ effort to amend the request with a broader, $500 billion-plus aid package.

That measure would make changes to the small-business program, including allocating a portion of the funds to rural and underserved communities while tacking on additional relief for states, hospitals and low-income households.

Jennifer Shutt, Jim Saksa and David Lerman contributed to this story.

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