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Sens. Lee, Johnson slow bill tweaking SBA COVID-19 loan program

Jim Saksa, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Two Republican holdouts are threatening to prevent speedy passage of a bill that would modify a popular coronavirus loan program for small businesses over the temporary initiative's end date.

Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are holding up the bill because they want the Paycheck Protection Program to expire in August rather than December.

By preventing quick passage via unanimous consent, Lee and Johnson would force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to spend valuable floor time on the measure, something he traditionally is loath to do.

Conn Carroll, Lee's spokesman, confirmed his position: "Senator Lee does believe that PPP was intended to be a short-term solution and that loan applications should be limited to Aug. 15."

Johnson didn't respond to a request for comment. But in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, he said he wanted to make additional changes to the program, like requiring companies to demonstrate they need the funds. He also said the program wasn't meant to last forever. "The program was designed to help small businesses bridge short-term shutdowns," he wrote.

McConnell on Monday said he wants to take up the bill that passed the House last week "soon" and placed it on the Senate calendar.

 

The measure would modify a handful of the program's provisions, which offer companies forgivable loans that act like grants as long as the money is used mostly to pay employees.

The House-passed legislation would extend from eight weeks to 24 weeks the time in which the borrowing companies must spend the loans in order to have them forgiven. It would also push the program's current June 30 end date to the end of the year, in recognition of the lengthier-than-expected shutdown of nonessential commercial activities.

The Senate impasse comes as the first large chunk of small businesses to receive the loans are running up to the eight-week period. According to a survey released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 23% of PPP borrowers will hit their eight-week deadline next week, and another 19% will do so the week after that. Seven percent of the borrowers have already passed the eight-week window.

An NFIB survey in May found that 54% of PPP borrowers expected to have all their loans forgiven and another 27% expected at least 75% to be.

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