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Opinion Once more, Nancy Pelosi makes a deal — and her point

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on April 21 blamed Republicans for holding up additional coronavirus relief money for small businesses. (Video: The Washington Post)

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stood firm in demanding that the fourth covid-19 relief bill include money for health-care workers and for states and localities, Republicans howled. How dare she hold up money to small business! She’s on the wrong side of public opinion.

Well, as we have seen so many times before, Pelosi — in tandem with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — found a way to make a deal with the only semi-competent negotiator in the administration, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The Post reports:

The White House and congressional leaders reached agreement Tuesday on a $484 billion deal to replenish a small business loan program that’s been overrun by demand and also boost spending for hospitals and coronavirus testing. . . . President Trump said he would sign it into law.
“I urge the Senate and House to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act with additional funding for PPP, Hospitals, and Testing," [Trump] wrote on Twitter, adding a number of other issues he’d like to address in a future round of negotiations.
The $484 billion legislation would increase funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by $310 billion, boost a separate small business emergency grant and loan program by $60 billion, and direct $75 billion to hospitals and $25 billion to a new coronavirus testing program.

The $25 billion for testing includes $11B for the states specifically. Moreover, “Schumer said they’d gotten a commitment from the White House that cities and states could use $150 billion allocated in the earlier $2 trillion Cares Act to offset some of the lost revenue in their budgets. That money was initially designed to address each state’s coronavirus response.”

Nancy Pelosi says she was raised to be holy, not speaker of the House. Now, as she turns 80 on March 26, she is the most powerful woman in American history. (Video: Shane Alcock/The Washington Post)

The bill accomplishes some major Democratic goals. The $60 billion goes to small businesses, often minority or women-owned, that were unable to qualify for loans in the first tranche of Small Business Administration loans. Pelosi and Schumer in a written statement touted inclusion of “$30 billion reserved for community-based lenders, small banks and credit unions and $30 billion for mid-sized banks and credit unions. . . . [and] expanding small business support beyond PPP by securing $50 billion for SBA emergency disaster lending, translating into more than $350 billion in loans, and $10 billion in SBA emergency disaster grants.”

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

The testing funds were perhaps the biggest “get” for Democrats, a sad commentary on the Republican Party, which would rather defend Trump’s flight from responsibility than address the central issue needed to reopen the economy safely. In a letter to colleagues, Schumer underscored the importance of funding for testing:

Crucially, this additional health care funding includes $25 billion for the beginning of a national, comprehensive testing strategy and generous remuneration to the states so they can implement testing and contact tracing. We cannot safely return to a fully-functioning economy if we do not dramatically increase our nation’s testing capacity — something that the administration has thus far failed to accept responsibility for. The money provided in this bill will help us reach our goal of robust, nationwide testing. The administration will be required to report on how it plans to increase domestic testing capacity, including testing supplies, and address disparities in all communities. After this bill is signed into law, Democrats will hold the administration accountable to ensure that the reporting requirements are met and these funds are used as intended.

Perhaps not coincidentally, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) traveled to meet with the president on Tuesday afternoon. During a news conference in Buffalo before his departure, he explained that the focus of their White House discussion should be on testing. “Let’s coordinate who does what, what do the states do, what does the federal government do,” he said. He implicitly criticized Trump’s effort to lay the entire testing problem off on the states. (“This is one of those thankless tasks. Everyone will say, ‘You did not do enough.' I get the instinct to distance yourself from it.”) However, while Cuomo asserted the states must regulate their labs and decide allocation of testing within their states, “I think the federal government needs to take the national manufacturer supply chain issue." In other words, the feds have to figure out how to beef up the supplies and the reagents that U.S. testing manufacturers have gotten from China and other countries.

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Congress is expected to swiftly vote on the bill and get it to Trump’s desk for signature. Then the hard part — overseeing the loan program, bird-dogging Trump on testing and overseeing a responsible approach to gradually reopening segments of our economy — can begin.

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Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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