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Small business aid program is not 'way ahead of schedule'

Trump insisted that the Paycheck Protection Program is "way ahead of schedule." I wish that were true. It's not.
Image: Small businesses
A sign alerts customers that a business in Queens is closed on April 3, 2020 in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

At a White House briefing this week, Donald Trump brought up the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business aid initiative in the CARES Act, and boasted about it in a specific way. "We're way ahead of schedule, by the way," the president said. "We're way ahead of schedule. The Paycheck Protection Program has been incredible."

To be sure, there's a lot to like about the Paycheck Protection Program, but "the schedule" called for the initiative to kick into gear last week. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, in reality, "There have been substantial delays, with few loans issued."

The $349 billion emergency lending program just began operating Friday, but the rollout has been plagued by a host of problems. Small-business owners have complained that they are unable to get through to the Small Business Administration or the banks to apply for loans or that they are being rejected by banks that say they are accepting applications only from businesses that are already customers of the bank. Two of the nation's largest banks, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, weren't initially set up to take applications. The SBA's loan processing system then stopped working early in the week, making it impossible for loans to be approved and money distributed, while confusion spread about the documents that lenders needed from customers to complete loan transactions.

Maybe the president is unaware of these highly relevant details. Maybe he knows about the problems plaguing implementation, but he's hoping the public won't know the difference.

Either way, when Trump says something is "ahead of schedule," it's a bit like when he tells stories about big, unnamed crying men, calling him "sir": it's best not to believe him.

Indeed, as regular readers know, the Republican's "ahead of schedule" line is what poker players might call a tell.

In January, for example, the president commented on a military aid package to Ukraine -- the one he blocked as part of an illegal extortion scheme -- and told reporters, "[I]t got there two or three weeks ahead of schedule." He echoed the point soon after, adding, in reference to officials in Kyiv, "They got their money long before schedule." That wasn't true.

It was part of a larger pattern. Roughly a year into his term, Trump spoke at a religious right gathering where he boasted, "I didn't have a schedule, but if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule."

It's a phrase he proceeded to embrace with great enthusiasm and without regard for accuracy. Before adding an inch of border barriers, for example, Trump told supporters, "We're building the wall.... Way ahead of schedule, way ahead of schedule. Way, way, way ahead of schedule."

The president added that his plans to overhaul veterans' care were "ahead of schedule." He insisted that his proposed changes to U.S. education policy were "ahead of schedule." Before the Republican tax plan even existed, Trump assured the public that his plan was "actually ahead of schedule."

None of these claims were true, but they seemed to make him feel better.