Seven Republicans have signed on to a Senate bill that would extend the Paycheck Protection Program for two months, putting Democrats closer to the necessary 60 votes on a measure that Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said must pass this week.
Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio joined as co-sponsors of the bill on Monday. Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine, who introduced the bill, previously signed on.
If the Senate’s 50 Democrats and the seven Republicans support the bill, they would need only three more votes to prevent a potential filibuster. The House passed its bill by a 415-3 vote on March 16.
It remains unclear when Democrats might try to bring the bill to the floor. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced a separate measure that would limit how the Small Business Administration can spend the money. Collins and Capito are co-sponsors of Rubio’s bill. Collins said extending the deadline is her top priority.
Schumer, D-N.Y., has filed a motion to proceed with the House bill that would extend the program to May 31 to allow the SBA more time to work through a backlog of loan applications. He then filed cloture on the motion.
"We hope the Senate will move the bill quickly, that no one will stand in the way, that no one will block it,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday. “We are not going to end this week without passing an extension and I'm confident that once again we will get the job done."
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who is a co-sponsor of Rubio’s bill acknowledged Tuesday that there’s a “good possibility” the clean extension in the House bill could clear the Senate. “Look, we all think the PPP needs to be extended,” he said.
The PPP program issued 7.5 million loans totaling $687 billion to small businesses during the last year, according to SBA data. FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the program.
Though the program has provided a financial lifeline for businesses, it has faced criticism for leaving some smaller and minority-owned businesses behind in the early months of the pandemic. Those businesses were less likely to have relationships with the banks that distributed the loans on behalf of the government.
The Biden administration last month limited the program to only those businesses with fewer than 20 employees for two weeks to reach smaller operators. SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman said during her Feb. 3 confirmation hearing that she would prioritize getting aid to minority-owned businesses and those with fewer than 10 employees.
But that pledge rang some alarms among Republicans. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who co-sponsored the Rubio bill, said in a statement that it would prevent the SBA from “picking and choosing ‘winners.’”
Rounds said Tuesday that preventing the SBA from creating additional priorities for distributing aid would make it easier for loan officers that work with businesses to get the government-backed loans. Rounds is also a co-sponsor of the bill that would place restrictions on the SBA.
“If you make it so that it’s just more difficult for them to do their jobs, it means fewer of them are going to actually invite those businesses to come into their bank to get those loans,” he said. “We think that for those businesses out there that need it right now, they should all be able to get in line now.”
Requiring loan officers who hand out the government-backed loans to pause applications from some businesses, while waiting for requests from other businesses to arrive, complicates things, he said.
“I don’t think that’s very efficient, and that’s the reason for the amendments,” he said. “We think they've got enough capacity to do them all. We don't see any reason to try to subdivide it.”
But Rubio said Tuesday that Guzman would still be able to steer aid to smaller and minority-owned businesses under his bill.
“That flexibility exists,” he said in an interview. “What she wants to go do is probably give money to Planned Parenthood and other groups like that that were never intended to be beneficiaries — so large organizations with millions of dollars.”
Guzman during her confirmation hearing said she would review and enforce eligibility requirements in response to Republican questions about loans to Planned Parenthood health care centers.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, said Tuesday the Senate must pass an extension first and work out any tweaks to the program afterward.
“They're two separate issues. We need to extend the program,” the Maryland Democrat said in an interview. “We've got to get it done this week because otherwise there'll be a gap.”
“I'm open to bipartisan improvements to the PPP program and would be willing to try to get action on that as promptly as possible,” he said. “But you have to have a PPP program to have improvements to it.”
Ellyn Ferguson and David Lerman contributed to this story.