Mnuchin speaks with congressional leaders about additional $250B for Paycheck Protection Program

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Tuesday he’s working with congressional leaders to secure an additional $250 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program loans to help small businesses reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mnuchin tweeted that at President Trump’s direction, he’s held discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., about procuring the extra funding.

Mnuchin’s tweet comes quickly after McConnell said Tuesday he will attempt to swiftly pass additional funds for small businesses.

The Republican leader plans a vote this week to supplement the $350 billion approved for companies in the just-passed $2.2 trillion rescue package with an immediate additional $250 billion or so, according to GOP operatives. The so-called Paycheck Protection Program “may run dry” without it, McConnell said. Mnuchin is expected to outline the request later Tuesday.

Securing the aid is the top GOP priority for an expected fourth coronavirus relief bill. But trying to jam it through a nearly abandoned Capitol without elements sought by Democrats could threaten the fragile political peace going forward. The action is set for Thursday.

Thursday's vote requires unanimous agreement since it's planned for a “pro forma” session that wouldn't typically involve Senate business.

“This program has become overwhelmingly popular,” McConnell said in a statement.

“Jobs are literally being saved as we speak. But it is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry. That cannot happen,” he said.

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The overture as jobless claims soar to record highs sets up a showdown with Democrats led by Schumer, who on Tuesday called for up to $25,000 “heroes” pay for front line health care and service industry workers.

The political lines being drawn threaten a fragile consensus that was emerging between congressional leaders and Trump on the need for more aid amid the pandemic and its stark economic shutdown.

“We’re going to take good care of our people,” Trump said Monday at his daily White House briefing. “It was not their fault.”

McConnell's move leaps ahead of a broader package that is still being debated but it's unclear if it could win passage in both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-run House.

Pelosi wants the boost in small business funds as part of much broader aid package topping at least $1 trillion.

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But McCarthy backed McConnell's effort for a smaller, discrete infusion for the small business program.

“The House should move swiftly to do the same,” he said in a statement.

Already, small businesses can tap forgivable loans of up to $10 million from the federal government to keep making payroll while workers are told to stay home.

The coronavirus crisis has brought the economy to a standstill as businesses shutter under public health efforts to keep people home and prevent the spread of the virus. The economic fallout is ransacking communities nationwide, a crisis on par with a war effort or the Great Depression.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.