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Fate Of 'Interim Emergency' Relief Bill Uncertain As Parties Debate Size, Timing

Updated at 6:44 p.m. ET

Congress is working to get more money to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic but negotiations over the size and scope of another round of emergency funding could delay quick action this week.

A day after the top Senate Republican announced he would press to approve another $250 billion in small business assistance a measure supported by President Trump House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined their demands for what should be in an "interim emergency" coronavirus relief bill, doubling the potential price tag to $500 billion.

Both Democrats support the added resources Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he wants the Senate to approve on Thursday. But they also pushed for another $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers that are responding to the pandemic and $150 billion for state and local governments that are managing local efforts with depleted tax revenues because of the economic downturn.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer, D-N.Y., also said they wanted a 15% increase in the amount of benefits the food assistance program provides for eligible families.

In a Wednesday interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Pelosi said that the White House did not support their push for additional funding.

Pressed whether the House could block Senate Republicans' efforts to quickly pass just the small business aid, Pelosi was clear that the measure faced resistance from Democrats, saying, "The bill that they put forth doesn't have, will not get unanimous support in the House. It just won't."

The speaker indicated they would continue to press for more money for states and localities that she said were bearing a "tremendous burden."

"I think we have to spend what we need," Pelosi said, noting that she did not foresee a ceiling on how much money should be dedicated to coronavirus relief.

In terms of the small business help, Pelosi and Schumer specifically want half of the new money — $125 billion — to be for "community-based financial institutions," which they say help minority-owned, rural and veteran-owned businesses across the country. Pelosi told NPR a portion of this money should go to help businesses that don't have traditional banking relationships that others do.

Top Republican and Democratic leaders agree Congress needs to act swiftly to add more money to the roughly $2 trillion bill, known as the CARES Act, Trump signed on March 27. Pelosi has already been discussing a range of policy priorities for a so-called fourth package to address the fallout from the coronavirus, such as worker protections and a broad infrastructure program. But she has acknowledged the recent surge in unemployment claims and growing numbers of shuttered businesses needing loans means Congress needs to act sooner with more federal money.

"After we pass this interim emergency legislation, Congress will move to pass a CARES 2 Act that will extend and expand the bipartisan CARES Act to meet the needs of the American people. CARES 2 must provide transformational relief as the American people weather this assault on their lives and livelihoods," Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

It's unclear how Republicans will respond to the request to increase the size of the next emergency aid package. McConnell was aiming to have the Senate voice vote or approve more relief on Thursday through unanimous consent, but any one senator could object and derail that effort.

The House has a pro forma session on Friday and could act on any measure passed by the Senate. It would also need broad support to pass any legislation, since there is no remote voting and leaders would seek to move another bill with a voice vote.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Trump renewed his appeal to Congress for the additional $250 billion for small business loans and expressed hope that it could happen as early as this week.

"Hopefully it's going to be bipartisan," he said. "We can do a Phase 4, and a Phase 4 can be later."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.