House votes to relax coronavirus PPP loans for small businesses

The House overwhelmingly voted Thursday to relax rules for how businesses use Paycheck Protection Program funds during the coronavirus pandemic.

The reforms passed 417-1 and now go to the Senate for consideration.

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act allows businesses to spend money over 24 weeks rather than just eight to qualify for loan forgiveness.

Companies taking part in the $670 billion program also would be allowed to defer payroll taxes, and the percentage they must spend on payroll would drop from 75 to 60 percent.

Business leaders lobbied hard for the changes, and a group of restaurant owners implored President Trump to join the effort during a White House roundtable event this month.

Republicans almost unanimously supported the legislation — as they did a China human rights bill on Wednesday. That could signal support for its passage in the Republican-led Senate.

But that support comes despite warning that a new House policy allowing for proxy votes may result in legislation being declared null and void by courts.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is leading Republicans in a federal lawsuit arguing that proxy voting is unconstitutional. The first proxy votes in House floor history were cast Wednesday after 71 Democrats asked colleagues to vote for them.

On Wednesday, McCarthy denounced Democrats for transferring credit for the PPP reform bill from GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas to Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota.

“Once we found out that everybody loved the bill, lo and behold we can’t let a Republican have their name on the bill,” McCarthy said. “[Roy] is no longer the main author on the bill even though it was his idea, something you can be very proud of on the other side … I look forward to the member who took his name and try to campaign on it.”

The Paycheck Protection Program is open to businesses with up to 500 employees, and in certain cases more. The House on Thursday rejected a measure to require the Small Business Administration to disclose information about loan recipients, with most Republicans opposing the change. A two-thirds majority was needed.

The SBA said in a recent statement its immediate focus was on administering the loans, but that greater transparency could come “in the near future.”

Congress approved PPP funds in two tranches amid widespread government-ordered business closures. An initial $350 billion ran out within two weeks, but additional funds approved in late April haven’t yet run dry.

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