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Coronavirus USA

Coronavirus relief bill: what does it say about PPP loans and targeted health care?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented the Republicans' latest coronavirus relief proposal but senior Democrats immediately rejected it.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, 08 September 2020.

A second Republican attempt to present a watered-down version of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed into law earlier in the year during the initial shockwaves of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States met with short shrift from leading Democrat negotiators Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the latest Republican proposal could be voted on this week and that the “American people will be watching.” What the American people won’t be getting, under the latest proposal, is another round of stimulus checks with no provisions in the Republican draft bill for another round of individual payments.

House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Chuck Schumer wasted little time in describing the bill as containing several “poison pills” that the Democrats will not accept. In a joint statement, the chief Democratic negotiators accused the Republicans of doing too little, too late after months of increasingly barbed exchanges across the floors of Congress with a presidential election looming in November.

“As they scramble to make up for this historic mistake, Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn't come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” Pelosi and Schumer stated.

McConnell meanwhile stated that Democrats had been stalling negotiations with a view to political gain as Joe Biden seeks to oust President Donald Trump from the White House when Americans go to the ballot boxes in November. “They do not want American families to see any more bipartisan aid before the polls close on President Trump’s re-election,” the Senate Majority leader said in a statement.

PPP extension and “targeted” healthcare

White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow said that the Republicans’ “targeted” proposal could be just the tonic the US needs after months of fruitless negotiations.

"Targeted areas ... could be very helpful. Maybe even make the recovery even stronger,” Kudlow told Fox Business News. “It's going to be targeting healthcare, education and the economy. I think small business PPP loans are going to be extended.”

“If they want to add targeted checks, that’s fine too,” Kudlow added as the debate around a second round of stimulus checks for individuals rumbles on. Both parties have recently found common ground on the need for a second round of checks worth $1,200 – a move backed by Trump and the White House – but Democrats are likely to remain unmoved by the latest proposal’s omission of these.

Liability protection remains a sticking point

Included in the Republican proposal is the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program funds to small businesses worth $258 billion, and $105 billion for schools and colleges. Also on the table is the thorny issue of liability protection for businesses against Covid-related claims from employees who may contract the virus upon returning to work. This is seen as a cornerstone of the Republican stance on passing any coronavirus relief package while Democrats have not included any mention of liability protection in their proposals.

While “targeted healthcare” was mentioned in the proposal it remains unclear what this would entail although it is likely to be focused on Covid-19 testing and funding for hospitals. In the Republican HEALS Act $16 billion was allotted for testing and $25 billion for hospitals, while the HEROES Act proposed $75 billion be set aside for testing and support for hospitals and health care workers.

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