Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Kevin Dietsch / AP

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WASHINGTON — Democrats drove a temporary extension of a popular subsidy program for small businesses through the GOP-controlled Senate late Tuesday, an unexpected development that came as spikes in coronavirus cases in many states are causing renewed shutdowns of bars and other businesses.

The move by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin came hours before a deadline for applying for the program, which was created in March. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Small Business Committee, asked for unanimous approval of the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program through Aug. 8. The program was championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Minority lawmakers are hardly ever successful in such attempts, but the pressure swayed Republicans controlling the Senate, who have delayed consideration of a fifth coronavirus relief bill and are preparing to go home for a two-week recess. 

Collins said on Twitter that she will continue bipartisan negotiations on a bill to allow businesses hit hard by the pandemic to apply for a second loan under the program.

About $130 billion remains of $660 billion approved so far for the subsidy program, which provides direct subsidies to businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic, which slammed the economy as consumers and workers were forced to stay at home through much of spring.

The subsidies come in the form of federal loans that can be forgiven if businesses follow rules such as utilizing 60 percent of the loan for payroll costs. The loans have been a lifeline to more than 4 million businesses.

Story by Andrew Taylor.