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Capitol Hill, White House Officials Work To Release Pandemic Relief Funds

NOEL KING, HOST:

The White House and congressional leaders are working on a new wave of coronavirus relief funding. It's to help replenish the small-business loan program that ran out of money in less than two weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on ABC News yesterday that an agreement is close.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

NANCY PELOSI: Everything we've done - three bills in March were all bipartisan. This interim package will be, too. And the businesses will have the money in a timely fashion.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been following this one. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there. Good morning.

KING: So the bill that's being discussed now, what Speaker Pelosi there just called an interim package - $450 billion - who's that money for?

SNELL: Well, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said over the weekend that they were narrowing in on a deal that would include around $300 billion in additional money for the forgivable small-business loans. That's the Paycheck Protection Program. Now, the original $350 billion that they approved ran out in less than two weeks, even with that rocky rollout and all of those delays that we've heard about. Now, there's also an additional $50 billion for small-business disaster loans, $75 billion in emergency funding for hospitals. And I'm told that the last bit of negotiating over the weekend focused on around $25 billion for testing. There are some questions about how that would roll out, where that money would go, what kind of restrictions might go along with it.

And, you know, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says this could all be done early this week. You know, he mentioned over the weekend the possibility of a vote today in the Senate, but we haven't even seen a bill yet, so I would caution that that is possible but unlikely at this moment.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: OK, OK. Still so speedy. Kelsey, I know that you were reporting that the National Governors Association wants Congress to approve, like, $500 billion in direct aid to states. So does this bill have any money for state and local governments?

SNELL: It does not, and I think that's really interesting here. There is none of that money. And $500 billion is a lot of money. And primarily, what they were talking about there was that the governors worry that these stay-at-home orders and all of the additional response that isn't just involved with, you know, getting testing out there and making sure that people's needs are met - they're worried that all of those changes to the economy are really negatively affecting their budget. Now, it is important that this is something that Democrats wanted in this package, but it not being there may be the strongest evidence yet that there's another larger package to come.

KING: You know, just a couple weeks ago, the federal government injected $2 trillion into the economy, now another 450 billion, possibly, you just said, more to come. What does all this spending tell us about what state we're in right now?

SNELL: Yeah. To give you a little bit of a picture of the way that Congress is thinking about this money, the staff I talked to over the weekend called this latest pot of money more of a gap-filler than an actual new package of money. And that's the moment we're in. Nearly half a trillion dollars is a gap-filler. I know that can feel really hard to put your head around and to get context, but this number we're talking about, a gap-filler number, is more than half of the entire first bank bailout bill of 2008.

Now, this talk about a fourth package would, depending on who you talk to, possibly include more stimulus, less rescue, so maybe infrastructure spending or some other way to get people spending money and back into the economy. A good way to think about it is look back to 2008 and 2009. Congress did that original bank bailout called TARP at the end of George W. Bush's last term. And then a few months later, President Obama worked with Congress on an even bigger stimulus bill. And it's possible that these additional pieces of legislation could follow that model.

KING: Kelsey, let's say there is an agreement this week. Do you know how the members of Congress will vote?

SNELL: That is a really good question. We know that they're both out of Washington until May 4 to send - you know, to ensure social distancing. And leaders have indicated that Congress needs to act quickly on something. Members will get 24 hours' notice. The House majority leader told members they could vote as early as Wednesday. But getting members back to Washington is really difficult. So there's talk about a proxy voting proposal, which is supported by House Speaker Pelosi. So it'll be very interesting to watch how Congress figures out how to vote in this time of coronavirus.

KING: NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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