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Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are seen at an event with House and Senate Democrats in the Capitol on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

'How About Zero-Interest Loans?': Calls to Primary Schumer After Dem Leader Proposes Low-Interest Loans for Coronavirus Recovery

As Republicans float proposals for direct cash payments to Americans, the Democratic leader was implored to "read the room."

Julia Conley

Progressives on social media registered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for low-interest small business loans as the latest evidence that Democratic leaders are approaching the global coronavirus pandemic with far too moderate solutions, with several critics calling for a progressive primary challenge to the New York Democrat.

Schumer spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday evening as lawmakers took up the House coronavirus relief bill, which has already been criticized for leaving millions of American workers out of its paid sick leave policy. The Senate leader proposed a separate package which would expand unemployment insurance and Medicaid funding, fund emergency childcare and remote learning, and mobilize the Defense Department to send personnel and supplies across the country to help fight the spread of the virus. 

"If you're a small business suddenly facing cash flow problems, we'd allow you to apply for low interest loans and other forms of direct financial assistance that can offer relief quickly and allow you to overcome this problem and keep your business going in a healthy way," Schumer said.

MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes and others questioned why any interest should be collected on small business loans in the midst of a national public health and economic crisis—and why the government would not push for grants instead of simply lending money.

A number of critics quickly called for a progressive primary challenger to run against Schumer, with journalists David Klion and Ashley Feinberg proposing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) run against the four-term senator.

The current crisis, in which some small business owners have already reported tapping into their personal savings to stay afloat as Americans are urged to stay away from restaurants, bars, and other establishments, will require "automatic, not bureaucratic" assistance, former New York attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout tweeted.

Small business advocacy group Main Street Alliance called for immediate financial assistance for small business owners.

Direct payments would help "cover immediate business expenses to keep their door[s] open and employees paid (payroll, insurance premiums, paid sick time, rent)," the group wrote in a press release. The government should also "delay or waive utilities, vendor contracts, and ban collection actions," it added.

Schumer's proposal comes as progressives push for bold recovery initiatives including a moratorium on evictionsand a suspension on mortgage payments during the coronavirus crisis and the cancellation of student loan debt. Republicans including the Trump administration have also suggested direct cash payments to millions of Americans could also be on the horizon, indicating a major shift in the Overton Window regarding the public debate over the kind of assistance that's feasible.

"Jesus Christ, Chuck," tweeted author Lauren Hough. "Read the goddamn room." 

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