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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America today launched its $350 billion bailout for small businesses, and already there is widespread skepticism that the program will run smoothly or be large enough to meet demand.

What's new: House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy yesterday said that the affiliation rule will be waived for any company with less than 500 employees that doesn't have a controlling outside shareholder, thus making most VC-backed startups eligible for PPP loans. This was based on a conversation he'd just had with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

What's wrong: Treasury hasn't yet released the aforementioned guidance, which creates an impossible situation for banks that are actually being asked to review and approve the loans. And that's just the tip of the guidance gum-works — with bankers complaining before last night that all they'd gotten were flimsy bullet points, rather than the granular details they really need.

  • JPMorgan Chase, one of the nation's largest business lenders, yesterday warned that it likely didn't have enough information to begin accepting PPP loan applications today.
  • As of this morning, its website says, in bold print: "Please don't send us any SBA or Treasury department forms."

One level deeper: Even if adequate guidance does come and loans get granted, there are worries in D.C. that the federal bureaucracy isn't prepared. Axios' Alayna Treene reports:

Lawmakers and staff who helped draft the rescue package have privately expressed concerns that the Trump administration — particularly the Small Business Administration and Labor Department — may be overwhelmed by the demand for loans and unable to get checks out the door as fast and responsibly as they're needed.
Some fear a repeat of what happened with the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act in 2013 when the site crashed due to tremendous demand.

Two levels deeper: Even if none of those fears come to pass, as Mnuchin this morning is suggesting via Twitter, there's dawning dread that $350 billion just isn't enough money. Not only because the pandemic has knocked so many small businesses and nonprofits off their feet, but also because there are few guardrails to prevent solvent groups from participating.

  • McCarthy downplayed the need for a "phase 4" stimulus yesterday, including President Trump's call for a $2 trillion infrastructure package, saying he'd need more data on how "phase 3" plays out.

The bottom line: This is understandably messy. The CARES Act wasn't even law at this time last week, yet today banks are asked to begin processing and funding tens of thousands of federally guaranteed loans. You don't blame pilots for the bumpy ride, you just pray they can land it safely in the end.

Go deeper: America's coronavirus bailouts

Go deeper

Democrats drubbing Trumpless GOP on social media

Data: Twitter/CrowdTangle (Feb 24, 2021); Chart: Will Chase/Axios

In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.

The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to announce details of a plan to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
35 mins ago - Health

New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.