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Wyoming Senators Support More Aid

Liam James Doyle/NPR

Even if Wyoming's two senators aren't here in Washington, they're working overtime these days. After helping pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus package last month, this week they tried to give the administration another $250 billion so it could aide struggling or shuttered small businesses. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says these massive stimulus bills are essential right now.

"This is a program highly in demand in Wyoming that will help our small businesses, help the people that work for those small businesses, to make sure that they can keep getting paid, they can stay on the payroll and the business will be ready to open again when the medical crisis that we're facing is behind us," Barrasso says.

But the White House effort to give the Treasury Department another quarter Trillion dollars was blocked by Senate Democrats, which Barrasso says was a gross political move.

"It sure looks to me like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are playing politics at a time when there is no time for politics," Barrasso says.

But on a call with reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuffed those charges from Republican leaders like Barrasso. The speaker says her party hasn't been given a meaningful seat at the table for the latest round of negotiations. Pelosi doesn't like that lending is currently being done in a "first come, first serve" basis. She says that's causing massive financial firms to lend to businesses they've already worked with, as opposed to mom and pop shops on main street or even many family farms.

"We want it to work. We want it to work, and essential part of it was to honor entrepreneurship in America and recognize the role that small businesses play to the economic life of America, and we want all of them to be able to participate," Pelosi says.

Pelosi wants one tenth of the $600 billion already allocated to businesses in the last stimulus package to go to community development institutions, like credit unions or other micro-targeted lenders as opposed to the big banks on Wall Street. The speaker says targeting $60 billion to smaller, local lenders would help farmers and ranchers, and also businesses left reeling across Indian Country. Pelosi says her Democratic troops will hold firm until stimulus funding flows to all Americans in need.

"In this process, many people who do not have banking relationships were going to be last in line. And that's why when they asked for more money, we said, 'well, let's help everybody here. Let's help the banks do what they're there to do, and let's have a call upon some of our community development, financial institutions to do what they can do to help many rural and small businesses in Indian Country," Pelosi says.

Senator Barrasso begs to differ with the House speaker.

"Nancy Pelosi has no idea what happens in rural communities like the communities in Wyoming…People have relationships with their local banks. We've been working with bankers working with small businesses, to make sure that the people of Wyoming have what they need," Barrasso says.

While Barrasso doesn't like the massive amounts of money Congress is being called upon to pass to address this coronavirus emergency, he says the federal stabilization efforts are making an impact across Wyoming.

"The program is working in Wyoming, still trying to get some of the kinks worked out to make it work more smoothly, as it's now going to be opened to individual contractors and people who are self-employed. The need and the demand is there," Barrasso says.

Wyoming senior senator Mike Enzi agrees. He says leaders in Washington need to stop trying to micromanage this economic relief effort and instead trust local leaders to handle it.

Enzi's the Senate Budget Chair, and he says before this crisis, he was already kept up at night by the fact that the nation had more than $23 trillion in debt. Since then he's supported the more than $2 trillion Congress infused into the economy. Enzi says it's essential - at least for now.

"This this is a bonafide crisis and we can save money by spending some money now I think, but we are going to have to figure out some things to some ways to tighten the belt in the future," Enzi says.

Still, like all lawmakers, Enzi's also bracing for what could be a long and extended bout with this new, deadly virus.

"We should be ready if it does start up in the fall. And there should be some vaccines and some therapies like Theraflu, or some things like that, that people will be able to get to take care of the minor cases. And the main thing is going on for the hospital essential stuff and the hospitals were given sufficient money to be able to pay for that equipment," Enzi says.

With another six point six million Americans filing for unemployment last week, it seems lawmakers in both parties still have a lot more work to do, even if they remain quarantined at home.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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