Democrats push to strengthen stimulus oversight in next round of coronavirus legislation

A Democratic proposal would toughen the oversight of coronavirus stimulus funds.

May 12, 2020, 4:14 AM

A group of House and Senate Democrats seeking stronger oversight of the massive coronavirus relief programs is introducing a new bill to force companies to publicly report how they're using the funds, and to beef up the oversight of the small business aid program.

Introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the proposal would strengthen some of the key watchdog provisions in the original $2.3 trillion CARES Act, according to a review of the bill obtained by ABC News.

The measure would require the Small Business Administration to publicly report information on lenders and recipients in the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses every week, in an effort to add transparency to an initiative that was criticized for initially allowing large, publicly-traded companies to participate in the program.

It would also expand the jurisdiction of the Congressional Oversight Commission -- appointed by Hill leaders to monitor the Treasury and Federal Reserve programs -- to include all spending, including the Paycheck Protection Program.

The proposal, which is being introduced by Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Md., and Pramila Jayapal D-Wash., in the House, would also codify the Federal Reserve's plans to release the names and amounts borrowed in their coronavirus lending programs and require borrowers to share how the funds are being used, along with information about compensation and their workforce -- such as executive salaries and bonuses.

PHOTO: Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks, in Monterey Park, Calif. March 2, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks, in Monterey Park, Calif. March 2, 2020.
Kyle Grillot/Reuters, File

In response to President Donald Trump's moves to sideline and replace key inspectors general involved in monitoring the federal government's coronavirus response, the proposal would mandate that inspectors general be fired only for good cause. Any firing could be challenged in court, and reviewed by an outside watchdog panel.

Democrats behind the proposal -- which has the support of several prominent oversight advocacy groups, including the Project on Government Oversight and the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- have called on congressional leaders to include it in the next round of coronavirus legislation, but it's not clear if the effort will be included in the package.

House Democrats are finalizing a new $2 trillion-plus proposal that will likely include relief funds for state and local governments strained by the pandemic and lost tax revenues, as well as additional unemployment funding and more money for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, among other provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has dismissed Democrats' efforts as dead-on-arrival in the Senate, and the White House has signaled resistance to moving forward with another round of coronavirus spending in the near term.

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