Senate blocks $48 billion aid package for restaurants, other small businesses

The Senate on Thursday blocked a bipartisan bill to provide $48 billion to restaurants, gyms and other small businesses hit particularly hard by the pandemic. 

Senators voted 52-43 to hold a vote on the bill, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward. Just five GOP senators voted for the motion to proceed, with the bill’s opponents citing its impact on the federal deficit and inflation.

The vote likely spells doom for the bill, which was crafted by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and backed by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a way to help struggling small businesses get out of debt accrued during the pandemic. 

“Well, this was our best shot. Make no mistake about it, we’re disappointed that we weren’t able to get it done,” Cardin told reporters after the vote. “But you know, I’ll always fight for small businesses. I’ll continue to look for ways we can help.”

Pressed after the vote on any potential plans for a similar measure in the future, Wicker told The Hill, “You know, time is a very fleeting commodity, so I just don’t know.”

Advocates had argued that the additional funds were needed to prevent scores of debt-ridden small businesses from closing down. 

The bill would have provided $40 billion to a relief fund for struggling restaurants. Democrats provided $28.6 billion to the fund in their COVID-19 relief package, but the federal dollars quickly ran out, with only one out of three applicants receiving aid.  

“Local restaurants across the country expected help but the Senate couldn’t finish the job,” Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a statement. “Neighborhood restaurants nationwide have held out hope for this program, selling their homes, cashing out retirement funds, or taking personal loans in an effort to keep their employees working and their doors open.”

The bill earmarked $2 billion for gyms and fitness facilities, $2 billion for live event operators, $2 billion for bus and ferry operators, $1.4 billion for small businesses located near border crossings that were closed during the pandemic and $500 million for minor league sports teams that took a significant financial hit due to COVID-19.

The Community Gyms Coalition, which represents nearly 20,000 gyms and fitness centers, said in a statement that Congress “failed to invest in fitness and exercise despite their obvious benefits for Americans’ mental and physical health.”

“More than a quarter of gyms and fitness facilities are permanently closed,” the group said. “Those which are still operating, but are burdened with debt taken on to survive government-mandated closures and restrictions, may soon close as well.”

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) joined Democrats in voting to proceed on a floor vote. Three Democrats and two Republicans did not vote. 

The bill’s Republican critics said that the relief package was wasteful and would exacerbate red-hot inflation by injecting more money into the economy.

“Democrats need to wake up and realize that dumping more money in the economy is simply pouring $5-a-gallon gas on an already out-of-control fire,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a speech leading up to the vote.

Aris Folley contributed.

Tags Ben Cardin Chuck Schumer COVID-19 inflation Pandemic Restaurants Roger Wicker Senate small business

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