WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed a nearly $500 billion interim coronavirus bill into law Friday that includes additional money for the small-business loan program, as well as more funding for hospitals and testing.
Trump was joined in the Oval Office for the bill signing by Republican lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has been a key White House negotiator with Congress in coronavirus aid legislation. During the ceremony, Trump walked back his comments from the day before that people could get an “injection” of a “disinfectant” that kills the coronavirus, telling reporters that he was being “sarcastic.”
Trump also threatened to hold up the next round of coronavirus legislation if the U.S. Postal Service does not raise its rates. Democrats have been arguing for money to be included for the USPS in the emergency funding bills.
“The Post Office is a joke,” Trump told reporters. “The Post Office should raise the price [of package delivery] four times. If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything.”
The bill passed the Senate earlier this week by voice vote and was approved by the House on Thursday on a 388-5-1 mostly bipartisan vote.
The bill includes more than $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, created by the CARES Act, which was passed late last month. The program, which quickly ran out of money because of heavy demand, provides forgivable loans to small businesses that keep their employees on the payroll.
About $60 billion of the additional PPP funding will be set aside for businesses that do not have established banking relationships, such as rural and minority-owned companies. Expanding access to the aid was a priority for Democrats who worried that some businesses were being shut out of the fund.
The bill also provides $60 billion in loans and grants for the Small Business Administration's disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing, but does not include the additional funding for states and local governments that Democrats had sought.
Although the aid package totals nearly half a trillion dollars, both parties have been referring to it as "interim" legislation meant to bridge the gap between the $2 trillion CARES Act and the next expansive round of coronavirus legislation.
Despite some points of disagreement and moments of gridlock, Congress has now managed to pass four bipartisan coronavirus bills in the past few weeks, moving at an unprecedented pace. But there are warning signs that such cooperation could be coming to an end.
Democrats have said that funding for state and local governments is a top priority for them in the next bill and they hope to pass it quickly.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled that he wants to pump the brakes on spending bills, raising concerns about the national debt and throwing cold water on Democrats’ insistence for additional state funding.
“Let’s weigh this very carefully because the future of our country in terms of the amount of debt that we’re adding up is a matter of genuine concern,” McConnell told reporters this week after the Senate passed the interim bill.
McConnell also said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” this week that he was “not ready to just send a blank check down to states and local governments to spend any way they choose to,” adding that he would “certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.”
McConnell’s comments drew immediate criticism from Democrats, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate,” Cuomo said of his state at his daily coronavirus news briefing Friday, attacking the Kentucky senator for referring to states’ request for money as “blue state bailouts.”
Pelosi also criticized McConnell on Friday, equating his refusal to fund states as “consistent” with Trump’s suggestion that people should consider an “injection” of “disinfectant” to fight the coronavirus.
“What is also consistent with Mitch McConnell saying let the states go bankrupt, they don’t believe in science and they don’t believe in governance and that’s why it’s hard to get them to accept the evidence that we have a role to do something to meet the needs of the American people in a very direct and stronger way,” Pelosi said.
Trump has said that he was open to including more state funding in future bills, but he expressed a similar sentiment to McConnell’s at the White House coronavirus briefing on Thursday, saying some states had budget problems long before the pandemic.
“I’m open to ideas that are going to be great to the people of this country. And if we can help states, we’re always going to help states. Now, there’s different ways of helping states. Some ways are better than others. So we’re looking,” Trump said. “It is interesting that the states that are in trouble do happen to be blue. It is interesting. You know, if you look around, I mean the states that seem to have the problem happen to be Democrat.”
McConnell also said this week that he wants to bring the full Senate back to Washington for future rescue packages. The Senate has passed the previous coronavirus legislation by voice vote or unanimous consent, meaning lawmakers were not required to be present and were not on record voting for or against the bills.
“My view is we ought to bring everybody back, have full participation to begin to think about the implications to the country’s future for this level of national debt,” McConnell said.
Many senators have remained at home in their districts since they adjourned in March. Democrats have been apprehensive about requiring lawmakers to fly back to Washington to work on the next bill in close quarters at the Capitol especially after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tested positive for COVID-19.
“If we were to come back prematurely and that were to set a bad example for people, that’s a bad thing,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. “I would like to be governed by the medical experts.”
Some Democrats appeared resigned to the idea that more aid would not be passed as quickly as they had hoped.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the only Democrat to vote against the interim bill, said that she was concerned that the fourth bill did not go far enough, considering that there is no concrete commitment from Republicans to begin working on the next bill.
“We’re leaving again today with no plan to come back,” Ocasio-Cortez said after the Thursday vote.
“We have no date. We have no commitment on when this CARES 4 is going to happen. And so I have to vote based on what’s in front of us, based on the fact that this is the only bill that we are going to likely entertain in the two months of this crisis. And it is too small.”