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House To Vote On Latest Coronavirus Relief Measure

NOEL KING, HOST:

The House will vote today on the latest coronavirus relief bill - $500 billion, most of it loans for small businesses that are having trouble paying their rent, paying their workers. Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas is the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. He's on the line this morning from Texas. Hello, sir.

MICHAEL MCCAUL: Hey. Good morning, Noel.

KING: So there were problems with the last relief package to help small businesses. Big businesses, like the restaurant chain Ruth's Chris Steak House, qualified for loans because there was a loophole in the language. How does this legislation fix that?

MCCAUL: Yeah. The Paycheck Protection Program is only available for employers that have under 500 employees. And so that's going be strictly enforced. The distress loan provision in the previous bill would apply to, like, airlines and the hospitality and energy sector. That would include, you know, larger businesses. But this is really a small-business program. We have 1.7 million loans that went out, and the 350 billion was expended really within a two-week period. So this is really a bill to replenish that fund, to keep businesses alive and afloat and people to stay, you know, on the payroll.

KING: A lot of loans made, as you point out - I want to, though, move beyond small businesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted proposals to send aid to state and local governments. This has been a priority of Democrats. McConnell said yesterday that bankruptcy was a better option. Here he is talking to the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah. I'm - I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It can save some cities. And there's no good reason for it not to be available. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don't have to do that. That's not something I'm going to be in favor of.

KING: Why is bankruptcy the better route than federal aid? Or is Mitch McConnell wrong?

MCCAUL: Well, I'm not sure I agree with him one that. I've talked to my Austin mayor. They want more money. I think that the point is that there's still a lot of money that - there's a lot of money that was given out to state and locals and still money left. I do think in this - the next tranche that we're going to vote on, I'm sure, in a couple weeks - because I think the small-business provision's going to be depleted rapidly - will include state and local funding. What I tried to work on was to get more flexibility for the local governments, particularly the mayors, to be able to have flexibility as to where to allocate the monies. That's what I've been hearing from my mayors, like the - Mayor Adler in the city of Austin.

KING: Austin - a city that's been hit very hard. More federal aid is already being considered. We know that. Where do you think it should go? Where is it needed most?

MCCAUL: I really think, you know, testing is so important right now. We put 25 billion in this bill. Until we have the testing, you know, available throughout the country, until we have people tested to know who has the virus and who doesn't, that's going to determine when we can fully get back to work. So I think that's a big part of this. There's also 75 billion for hospitals, and I made sure that, unlike last time - that the children's hospitals were included in this package.

KING: Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas - he's the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. Sir, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MCCAUL: Oh, thanks, Noel. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.