Retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has withdrawn from consideration to lead a congressional commission tasked with overseeing the Trump administration’s implementation of a $500 billion coronavirus relief fund, according to multiple Capitol Hill sources.
The move leaves the five-member commission without a leader four months after President Donald Trump signed into law the $2 trillion CARES Act, which established the commission. The law tasked Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with agreeing on a chair, and Dunford was the leading candidate and the only name that has emerged so far.
“Ultimately, General Dunford decided his service on the CARES Commission was incompatible with his other commitments,” according to a source familiar with the developments.
The panel’s other four members — Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bharat Ramamurti, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — have been meeting for more than two months and issuing periodic reports despite the absence of a chair.
It’s the latest blow to an entity that has struggled to get up and running, and which was a key feature trumpeted by Democrats and Republicans to emphasize that they intended to keep close watch on the administration’s implementation of the massive economic rescue effort. The $500 billion fund is managed by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve and is intended to shore up businesses, industries and local governments damaged by the impact of the pandemic.
Ramamurti recently went public with his frustrations by the panel’s slow start.
“Congress created the Congressional Oversight Commission 105 days ago. The Commission is responsible for overseeing $500 billion in public money. As of today, the Commission still has no Chair or full-time staff,” he tweeted last week.
“We are doing the best we can,” he added. “The two reports we have issued… contain a lot of useful information, questions, and analysis. But the lack of Chair and staff are serious obstacles to performing robust oversight.”
The $500 billion fund is being used to bolster a group of emergency Fed programs designed to make it easier for households, businesses, financial firms and municipalities to borrow more cheaply. One is targeted at large corporations that borrow money by issuing bonds; a second purchases loans from banks to “Main Street” midsize businesses that are too big for the Paycheck Protection Program; and a third offers loans to state and local governments.
The Fed has begun lending under all three of those programs — the Main Street program officially opened its doors last week — but so far has only used a small portion of the overall funding.
Some of the money was also set aside for Treasury to lend to airlines and other important businesses. The department has announced that 10 different airlines have signed letters of intent to borrow from the government. It’s also giving trucking company YRC, which was deemed “critical to national security,” a $700 million loan in exchange for a 29.6 percent equity stake in the company.