After instructing his staff to shut down stimulus talks until after the election on Twitter, the President later showed enthusiasm for individual bills providing additional assistance for small businesses and airlines. He also tweeted that should Congress pass a standalone bill offering $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, he'd sign it.
The reaction among business groups to his initial move to shut down stimulus talks had been swift.
"Washington's failure to enact additional Covid relief will be felt on Main Streets and at kitchen tables across the United States," Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's chief policy officer, said in a statement. "It is especially disappointing given that less than a month ago a bipartisan group of members of Congress outlined a reasonable compromise that would have provided the economy with the support it needs while helping our nation recover from this pandemic. Republican and Democratic leaders should follow their example."
While dizzying, the new course may hearten businesses--many of which may now be on the brink of closure after other aid has expired and revenue remains hobbled. In recent weeks, business leaders and advocates had pressed for the passage of smaller bipartisan small-business-relief bills piecemeal, like the Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act and the Restart Act--which received wide support from the business community.
Business leaders also called for fixing existing programs, including the Main Street Lending Program, operated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a longstanding business aid program from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The former program has so far failed to catch on with businesses for a variety of reasons and the latter has been capped at just $2 million, well under the scope of what many businesses say they need to bridge them through the crisis.
Whether Congress will agree to narrow its efforts is still anyone's guess. Earlier in the negotiations, which have lasted four months, House leaders held back agreements on more narrow measures in the hopes of coalescing around a larger deal. They'd made some headway. Some policy watchers were even growing optimistic over the prospects for a new deal given the President's recent coronavirus diagnosis. As the thinking went: The illness would give the talks new weight and urgency.
"The chances for a stimulus deal have actually increased as it refocuses the conversation on the virus and gives Pelosi more leeway to worry less about the election implications of passing a bill," wrote Sarah Bianchi, head of U.S. public policy and political strategy research for Evercore ISI, the investment bank's research arm, in a note last week.
Indeed, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was reportedly still in the middle of a call with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over negotiations when the President delivered his tweets halting talks.
All eyes, of course, are on the election. While former vice president Joe Biden has said that he would support additional stimulus, it isn't immediately clear if the president would, if he is reelected. Meanwhile bankruptcy filings and business closures are expected to tick up; an estimated two million--mostly small--businesses have already shuttered this year, according to the Hagaman, New York-based Oxxford Information Technology, an information services firm, which tracks about 32 million businesses.
The presidential debates--should they proceed given the President's illness--may be a useful means to keep the heat on the President as far as stimulus talks go.