Pressure ramps up on Congress to spend more on coronavirus crisis as small business funds run low

The funds could be exhausted as early as Wednesday evening, multiple Republican sources said.
Image: Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer , D-N.Y., at a news conference on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2020.Susan Walsh / AP

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By Kasie Hunt, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Alex Moe and Julie Tsirkin

Democratic leaders on Wednesday were digging in and fleshing out their demands for the next coronavirus relief package as money in the fund aimed at rescuing small businesses comes close to running out, multiple sources familiar with the funding told NBC News.

The funds could be exhausted as early as Wednesday evening, multiple Republican sources said after an update Wednesday afternoon from the Small Business Administration showed that over $300 billion of the $350 billion had been spoken for.

Republican and Democratic aides in both the House and the Senate had been operating under the assumption that the money would last through Friday — which would potentially give lawmakers a chance to pass a bill in pro forma sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

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"Hopefully we are getting closer to an agreement, but I can't guarantee that we're going to get an agreement that we can pass on Friday. That would be optimal if we could," House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

Negotiations have been deadlocked through the weekend after Democrats refused to unanimously agree to a Republican proposal to add money to the small business program without also adding funds for hospitals, state and local governments and the food stamp program.

"We need more money for small business, but we need it to go to the people who are underbanked and underserved. Many of these smaller businesses who don't have a connection to the larger banks are not getting help," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in a midday conference call Wednesday.

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But there were some signs of movement Wednesday, with Senate aides increasingly optimistic that they can overcome the weeklong stalemate and pass a bill before the end of the week.

A Democratic House leadership source said that while Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke Wednesday, negotiations hadn't formally begun on the package. A staff call was scheduled for later Wednesday, which the source said was the first step in the negotiating process.

Hoyer told reporters that he believes Republicans aren't taking issue with the substance of their request but are objecting to the process.