Congress could extend small business loan forgiveness timeline to 12 weeks, Mnuchin says

Mnuchin: CARES Act has poured $3T into economy

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin highlights the Main Street Lending Program and the overall impact the CARES Act has had on small businesses throughout the United States.

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Lawmakers could extend the time frame for small businesses to spend the coronavirus aid they received through the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday.

"One of the things we are working with Congress on, and there is bipartisan support, is lengthening the eight-week period," Mnuchin said during an interview with The Hill. "There is bipartisan support to extend that to 10 or 12 weeks … That's definitely something we want to fix."

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Mnuchin acknowledged that some restaurant groups have asked for the timeframe to be extended to 24 weeks.

The Senate is considering legislation that would double the amount of time businesses have to spend the money to 16 weeks, and House Democrats are expected to bring a similar bill to the floor next week.

In a video posted to Twitter this week, Sen. Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, said Senate Republicans are trying to pass a stand-alone bill to extend the PPP loan. The Florida Republican said he expected the bill to receive "99 or 98 votes."

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“We are going to change PPP so that if you got a PPP loan, you have 12 or 14 or 16 weeks to spend the money on payroll,” Rubio said. “Still the same purpose, just some more flexibility because the crisis has changed.”

Under the current rules, recipients of the government-backed aid must spend the money within eight weeks, meaning small business owners who received the earliest loans must spend the funds by May 29.

If at least 75 percent of the money goes toward maintaining payroll — including salary, health insurance, leave and severance pay — the federal government will forgive it.

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The remaining 25 percent can be spent on operating costs like rent and utilities, but may not go toward mortgage principal or pre-payments. Money spent on nonqualifying expenses must be repaid at an annual rate of 1 percent within two years. No payments are required during the first six months.

Although some advocacy groups have pushed for the 75 percent requirement to either be changed or eliminated entirely, arguing that it could hurt tens of thousands of borrowers who cannot meet the threshold, Mnuchin defended the restriction.

"It's called the Paycheck Protection Program, it's not called the overhead protection program," he said.

As of Monday night, about 4.3 million loans worth more than $513 billion had been distributed, leaving roughly $97 billion left in the pot.

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Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress For Not Confirming His Judicial Nominees

President Donald Trump spent much of Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing railing against Democrats for blocking his judicial nominees, threatening to shut down both chambers of Congress in the middle of a pandemic so that he can install them himself.

The president complained about what he called the “partisan obstruction” of nominees to federal judgeships and key administration roles that he said needed to be filled to address the spread of coronavirus, though he did not explain how. Trump blamed Senate Democrats ― who are the minority in the chamber ― for blocking his nominations, though most of the federal vacancies are a result of the president not selecting anyone to fill them.

Trump threatened to exercise a never-used constitutional power that allows the president to adjourn Congress if leaders of the House and Senate can’t agree on whether to adjourn.

The Senate is not slated to meet until May 4 and has been staying open in a “pro forma” session, holding generally brief meetings in the chamber. These sessions prevent Trump from being able to make recess appointments that bypass the regular Senate confirmation process. 

“The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “It is a scam, what they do. It’s been that way for a long time. It’s a scam, and everybody knows it.”

The Republican-majority Senate would have to agree to adjourn itself before Trump could exercise the power. And for the Senate to adjourn, either every member — regardless of political party — would have to agree, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have to force a vote to formally adjourn. Such a move would require calling the entire chamber back to the Capitol during a pandemic.

McConnell spoke to the president on Wednesday and “pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic,” his spokesperson told HuffPost. Although his office did not address Trump’s threat to adjourn the chamber, it did suggest that advancing Trump’s nominees would require Democrats’ agreement.

Spokespeople for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Trump also told reporters that “it’s never, ever happened before” that a political party has blocked numerous judicial nominees chosen by the president of the opposing party.

That claim is false. The Republican-controlled Senate repeatedly blocked judges nominated by then-President Barack Obama ― most notably his Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland, which McConnell was mainly responsible for.

Trump and McConnell have worked together during Trump’s tenure to confirm as many judicial nominees as possible to reshape federal courts across the country. In February, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send 44 of Trump’s court picks to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. 

The president has also seen at least 31 circuit judges, 53 district judges and two Supreme Court justices confirmed during his time in office. One in 6 seats on the U.S. circuit courts are now filled by Trump-nominated judges ― more than any other president had confirmed by this point in their first term.

The nominees tend to be young conservatives with records of opposition to reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights and the Affordable Care Act ― and Trump’s latest pick is no different. The president announced earlier this month, during the pandemic, that he plans to nominate 37-year-old Justin Walker to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the nation’s second-most-powerful court.

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Census Count Delayed by Three Months Because of Coronavirus

The once-per-decade U.S. census will be delayed by at least three months, the Commerce Department told Congress on Monday, as the coronavirus pandemic hinders in-person data collection from households.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced field operations will be delayed until June 1, and that in turn would delay completion of the count until Oct. 31. He asked Congress Monday to grant his department a 120-day extension of statutory deadlines as a result of the outbreak. A leading House Democrat said Congress will consider the request.

The 2020 Census will be used to determine the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the distribution of federal tax revenue to the states. The Census said in a statement that under its plan, apportionment counts would be finished by April 30, 2021, instead of Dec. 31 and redistricting data would be delivered to the states by July 31, 2021, instead of March 31, 2021.

“The Oversight Committee will carefully examine the administration’s request, but we need more information that the administration has been unwilling to provide,” House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “The Constitution charges Congress with determining how the Census is conducted, so we need the administration to cooperate with our requests so we can make informed decisions on behalf of the American people.”

The Census Bureau temporarily suspended field data collection activities in March because of the outbreak and said Monday that 70 million households, some 48% of the total, have already responded to the questionnaire.

This year’s count was already the subject of a pitched battle over Ross’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the form. Democrats said the Trump administration was attempting to intimidate undocumented immigrants into failing to respond to the census, which could lead to an undercount. The attempt was abandoned in the wake of court challenges.

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Governors Request $500 Billion For Budget Shortfalls From Virus

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U.S. governors are urging Congress to give states $500 billion in “stabilization funding” to meet budget shortfalls resulting from their efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Maryland’s Larry Hogan and New York’s Andrew Cuomo said in a statement on Saturday that the state-at-home orders most states have implemented were necessary to protect the public but hurt states’ economies.

Hogan, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, are chairman and vice-chair, respectively, of the National Governors Association.

“To stabilize state budgets and to make sure states have the resources to battle the virus and provide the services the American people rely on, Congress must provide immediate fiscal assistance directly to all states,” the pair said.

Hogan and Cuomo said Congress should appropriate an additional $500 billion for all states and territories.

Without the funding, states may have to reduce critical services, which will only hamper public health efforts and economic recovery from the pandemic, they said.

Stimulus Debate

The request arrives as some Democratic governors have criticized the Trump administration for what they said is a failure to provide adequate supplies and policies to address the public health crisis.

Democrats in Congress have demanded $150 billion for state and local governments in the latest leg of the stimulus plan, as well as funds for hospitals. Republicans insist the measure now being negotiated be limited to $250 billion for small business loans.

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, said Saturday on Fox News that the Republican effort was “just a plus-up” of the small-business program but Democrats want it loaded up “with a lot more junk.”

President Donald Trump said Friday he’s “certainly OK with helping the states and helping the hospitals” but would rather do it in the expected next phase of his administration’s economic response.

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How The Absence Of Remote Voting Saps Individual Members Of Power

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) objected to the idea of instituting remote voting for members of Congress in a letter on Wednesday, citing a report assembled by his staff challenging the idea’s constitutionality, practicality and vulnerability to security breaches.

The decision came as a response to appeals from a group of nearly 70 House Democrats, many of them on the West Coast, seeking a temporary way to enable normal legislating while the COVID-19 pandemic prevents people from traveling back and forth from Washington, D.C., to their home districts.

To critics though, some of the report’s professed concerns seem either contrived ― in the case of the questionable quality of some individual members’ access to high-speed internet ― or eminently resolvable ― in the cases of the cybersecurity of the system the members would be using and members’ varied comfort with video conferencing technology.

In addition, these critics point out that the opposition to remote voting, even on an emergency basis, deprives members of influence in the lawmaking process during a pandemic. In such a scenario, urgent legislation either requires “unanimous consent” ― approval by default ― or someone to stand against the grain, objecting to such a bill and requiring all colleagues to travel to the nation’s capital to vote on it in person.

The effort to pass the COVID-19 stimulus and bailout bill in the House based on unanimous consent, which can be done without members being present, is a case in point, according to these skeptics. 

“It’s a total power play” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said a senior aide to a progressive House member.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a conservative libertarian lawmaker, registered an objection to unanimous consent. His announcement required legislators, including many over the age of 70, to return to Washington to vote on the bill. (Massie was ultimately overruled on technical grounds; the House rapidly approved the legislation by voice vote, preventing members from having their formal “yes” and “no” votes recorded.)

By the time Massie had registered his objection, though, Pelosi and her deputies had effectively narrowed the terms of the debate by failing to pass a relief bill of their own before sending members home to their districts earlier this month.

That meant that rather than reconcile a more progressive House bill with a more conservative Senate bill, everything had to be negotiated in the Senate bill where a Republican White House and a Republican Senate left Democrats outnumbered. 

Progressive House Democrats opposed to the bill’s corporate bailouts would end up having to choose between rubber-stamping in absentia an imperfect bill with some relief for households and small businesses — or else objecting to it, thus requiring their colleagues to make the dangerous trek back to Washington and jeopardizing passage of any relief bill at all.

It’s a dilemma that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in particular, lamented during a floor speech, though she ended up declining to object to a voice vote.

“Pelosi had a significant amount of power in negotiating this package because members weren’t here,” said a second senior aide to a progressive House member. “If you have remote voting and you actually have to whip your members rather than just being able to count on unanimous consent, it would definitely give more leverage to members.”

An aide to House Democratic leadership maintained to HuffPost that the objections to remote voting had nothing to do with consolidating power in the hands of party leaders.

The Constitution requires members of Congress to be “present” for a vote, raising the prospect that the courts could strike down virtual voting, according to the leadership aide. Members’ technological aptitude varies widely, the leadership aide noted, citing a conference call this week with the House Democratic Caucus in which one member was not aware they had failed to mute their phone line when they were not speaking.

Besides, the aide pointed out, McGovern’s report is more receptive to the possibility of voting by proxy ― through an in-person substitute ― rather than online. (But even passing such a change would require Congress to reconvene in person to adopt new rules, since Democratic leadership declined to pair a rule change with the relief bill vote on Friday.)

Daniel Schuman, a policy director for the progressive group Demand Progress, which favors allowing remote voting on an emergency, 30-day basis, authored a point-by-point critique of McGovern’s report.

Schuman takes McGovern’s team to task for envisioning worst-case scenarios for technological failure, such as the glitchy app used in the Iowa caucuses in February, without acknowledging the ease with which virtual teleconferencing has been adapted in multiple professional settings.

Schuman also maintains that voting by virtual teleconference is the method that most closely approximates in-person voting and thus is most likely to meet constitutional standards in court. And since the vote would be public, he questioned how a video conference vote could be hacked or sabotaged through cybercrime.

What’s more, regardless of party leaders’ intentions, Schuman and other proponents of remote voting see leadership’s stance as the latest step in a decadeslong trend of centralizing power in the hands of party leadership. 

Congressional leadership frequently uses control over members’ scheduled votes to exercise influence over those members, according to the senior aides. For example, important appropriations bills are often scheduled for votes right before major holidays, creating an incentive for lawmakers from the two warring parties to resolve their differences. 

For that reason, Schuman is specifically wary of Democratic leaders’ greater receptiveness to proxy voting. Barring proxy voters with extraordinary skill and attentiveness, such a system would likely deny individual members the flexibility to barter their votes and change them on the spur of the moment ― and thus contribute to the deterioration of individual members’ power, he argued.

“Proxy voting is one step closer to making members less relevant and moving us toward a party system,” Schuman said.

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