Congressional Republicans reject Democratic call for broader coronavirus relief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The two top Republicans in the U.S. Congress vowed on Saturday to oppose Democrats’ demands to boost a proposed $250 billion bill to aid small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic by adding money for hospitals and state and local governments.

The statement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy came a day after the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said he and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to hold bipartisan talks on the bill next week.

“American workers are in crisis,” McConnell and McCarthy said in their statement. “This will not be Congress’s last word on COVID-19, but this crucial program needs funding now. American workers cannot be used as political hostages.”

Congress and the White House are scrambling to stem the economic fallout of the new coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease that has killed more than 18,700 Americans, closed schools, business and most public activities and thrown millions out of work.

Senate Republicans on Thursday failed to ram through a $250 billion increase in loans for small businesses suffering due to the outbreak. Democrats support the $250 billion in new funding but want to set aside some of the lending for community and minority-owned banks.

The $250 billion in small-business loans, which could turn into government-paid grants if certain terms are met, would be in addition to $349 billion already allocated by Congress in a $2.3 trillion relief measure passed last month.

In addition to the small business funding, Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pressing for another funding stream of more than $250 billion that would aid hospitals, state and local governments, along with expanded food aid for the poor.

Republicans are against the second batch of funding, calling it premature.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, the Republican chairman of the National Governors Association, and vice-chair Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, on Saturday urged the federal government to provide immediate fiscal relief for states battling the outbreak.

“Despite this grave challenge, the recently passed federal CARES Act contained zero funding to offset these drastic state revenue shortfalls,” Hogan and Cuomo said in a statement. “Congress must provide immediate fiscal assistance directly to all states.”

They called on Congress to provide $500 billion to meet the states’ budgetary shortfalls amid the pandemic.

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