SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump doesn’t want advice on how to recharge the American economy from only one Republican senator — Utah’s Mitt Romney.
In what appears to be a deliberate snub, Trump tapped every GOP senator but Romney to join the Congressional Economic Task Force, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers who will counsel the president about bringing the country out of the coronavirus pandemic.
Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and longtime businessman, was the only Republican to vote to remove Trump from office in his impeachment trial this year. He voted to convict Trump of abuse of power and to acquit him of obstruction of Congress.
Romney didn’t directly address the slight Thursday.
“Sen. Romney and his team are 100% focused on helping Utah families and businesses get access to federal assistance as they deal with the fallout from this crisis,” said Romney spokeswoman Liz Johnson.
Utah’s senior senator, Republican Mike Lee, chairman of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, is on the task force.
“Utah has a plan and is leading the way in solutions to this economic crisis and I look forward to sharing those ideas with the president. We had a booming economy before this crisis, and with the right safeguards in place, we will have a booming recovery, too,” Lee said Thursday.
Meantime, Utah members of Congress say the impasse between Republicans and Democrats over additional funding for small businesses must end now that the $349 billion emergency loan pool has run dry.
Although Rep. Ben McAdams, the state’s only Democrat in Washington, said there are good points on both sides, he’s anxious for an agreement.
“Come on people, let’s just sit down and get it done,” he said during a forum put on Thursday by the Emerging Leaders Initiative of Utah. “The panic that we are sending through the American economy today when the headlines are that the money has run out, the panic is immense. Let’s just get a deal done.”
Federal programs to help the economy tread water until it recovers hit a wall on Thursday.
The Small Business Administration announced that the Payroll Protection Program created to keep struggling small companies afloat would no longer accept applications until Congress approves additional money. The SBA also said it’s unable to enroll program lenders at this time.
The $10 billion Economic Injury Disaster Loans program also is depleted. The program was designed to quickly get cash to businesses, providing them with a $10,000 advance within a few days of application for loans of up to $2 million.
The programs are part of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package Congress passed to help businesses and individuals weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Utah GOP lawmakers blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for holding an additional $250 billion for payroll protection, and say many small businesses will pay the price.
Democrats say they aren’t opposed to more small-business funding but also want another $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for state and local governments and a boost in food assistance funding.
“This is just wrong. Small businesses are now the pawns in @SpeakerPelosi’s political game,” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, tweeted.
Stewart also tweeted that the SBA has “processed 14 yrs worth of loans in just 14 days. This program is HELPING. And yet, Dems continue to put politics over people.”
Romney also weighed in on the issue Thursday.
“Emergencies demand emergency action: the Paycheck Protection Program for employees of small business is NOW out of money. Dems should immediately agree to replenish these funds so we can get urgent help to workers,” he tweeted.
McAdams said he’s talking to business owners in the state daily and seeing how they’re struggling to keep employees on the payroll.
“Our nation’s small businesses and Utah’s hard-working families shouldn’t be used as a political football when millions of jobs are on the line,” he said.
Still, McAdams said both Democrats and Republicans have good points to consider as they negotiate additional funding.
He said he agrees with Republicans wanting to avoid “mission creep” and keep the bill narrowly focused on small businesses. At the same time, he said Democrats want to set up some guardrails to ensure everyone has access to the funds, noting mom-and-pop shops, and minority- and women-owned businesses were left behind in the first round of funding.
Now isn’t the time for partisan games, but time for both sides to listen to valid concerns, McAdams said.
“I’ve seen some proposals come forward to settle every political agenda under the sun, some of which I agree with but not now, not in this crisis. Let’s keep it narrowly focused on the mission at hand,” he said.
Utah banks will continue to stand by their small-business customers even as the federal funding has been used up, said Howard Headlee, president and CEO of the Utah Banking Association.
“We had hoped that Congress would act before the funds were exhausted, but the speed with which banks were processing the applications, literally around the clock, didn’t allow enough time for the political gamesmanship that has consumed Washington, D.C., in recent months,” Headlee said.
Utah small businesses received 12,914 payroll protection loans, totaling more than $2.6 billion in the 10 days since the program launched, he said.
Headlee said he’s pleased that Utah businesses received a higher proportion of the funds than he would have anticipated based on the state’s population.