Washington Post

The White House and Congress on Monday tried to design another giant bailout package aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic’s economic and health fallout, scrambling to resolve last-minute snags over loan access and testing.

“We have I believe come to terms on the principles of the legislation, which is a good thing, but it’s always in the fine print,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CNN Monday evening. “And so now we’re down to fine print, but I feel very optimistic and hopeful that we’ll come to a conclusion.” Votes on the agreement are expected as early as Tuesday afternoon in the Senate and Thursday in the House.

If a deal is reached, the nearly $500 billion measure would become the fourth virus-related bill rushed through Congress in just two months at a total price tag of almost $3 trillion.

The negotiators’ urgency shows how worried Republicans and Democrats are about the deteriorating economy, which has seen massive job losses and led to the closure of many American firms. But they are also dealing with growing political pressures amid bipartisan outrage about how some of the bailout programs have been handled so far, particularly the uneven distribution of loans to small businesses.

The new package would amount to roughly $470 billion in new spending, with $370 billion directed to small businesses, $75 billion going to hospitals, and $25 billion set aside for testing.

President Trump hailed the emerging deal at his daily coronavirus briefing Monday evening, calling it “a great plan” and saying he hoped for a Senate vote on Tuesday.

“We’re talking about $75 billion for hospitals and other health-care providers,” Trump said. “Many providers and their employees have taken a huge financial hit in recent weeks. … Hospitals have really been fantastic.”

Funds for testing emerged Monday as one of the last things to resolve.

Democrats were pushing for a “comprehensive national testing strategy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet. The Democrats were seeking “free testing for all, and expanding reporting and contact tracing,” Schumer said.

Pelosi said on CNN that “we need a national strategy for testing.”

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other Trump administration officials were seeking a “state-driven approach and flexibility,” according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

The official said “states must outline their plans for testing and share those” with the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services so they can “inform their public about what they intend and help us allocate resources appropriately.”

he differing approaches echoed the dispute growing nationally, as governors blame the federal government for the shortage of tests, while Trump and other administration officials insist there have been record numbers of tests performed and that governors need to try harder.

It wasn’t immediately clear what a solution to the testing dispute might look like, although officials involved said they were making progress on the issue.

The package comes several weeks after Congress devoted a record $2 trillion to arresting the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus, underscoring the depth of the crisis and the growing demand for a robust federal response. More than 22 million people have lost their jobs in the past month as the economy nose-dives into a recession.

The new measure would seek to devote an additional $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative created by last month’s Cares Act that was initially funded $349 billion but has since run dry. The Small Business Administration stopped accepting loan applications for the program last week after 1.6 million firms obtained taxpayer-backed, forgivable loans. The White House and Republicans demanded more money for the program, but Democrats said they would only support the measure if they received more money for hospitals, cities and states.