The U.S. Capitol on December 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Democrats in the U.S. House on Friday cleared a massive $3 trillion relief bill that’s aimed at blunting the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic but which faces strong opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The sweeping legislation, which passed largely along partisan lines by a vote of 208-199, carries a price tag that’s roughly equal to the total cost of four previous coronavirus response bills already signed into law. Two Virginia Democrats, Abigail Spanberger of Henrico and Elaine Luria of Norfolk, who both could face tough re-election fights this year, voted with Republicans against the package.
“This $3 trillion package and the previous relief bills would double federal spending for this year and spending of this scale requires careful consideration and input from all members, not just one party,” Luria said in a statement.
“A spending bill of this magnitude must be approached in a bipartisan manner and utilize a transparent process where Democrats and Republicans come together to identify the most impactful solutions. … There are many elements of the bill that are unrelated to addressing Americans’ most immediate needs associated with COVID-19, which distract from addressing our most urgent priorities during this pandemic.”
The measure contains nearly $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. It would also offer direct payments of $1,200 to Americans, extend federal unemployment benefits, increase funding for nutrition assistance programs and ensure that every American can vote by mail in the November election.
“Unfortunately, many members of Congress — including some in my own party — have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need,” Spanberger said.
The measure appears to be just a starting point for negotiations in the next round of congressional relief. The White House has issued a veto threat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared the bill “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber of Congress. Spanberger and Luria were among 14 House Democrats who voted against the bill, including other moderates facing very competitive reelection bids this fall. Rep. Pete King of New York was the lone Republican who voted for it.
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, called it a “socialist wishlist” that “explodes the size of government.”
This evening, I am voting against House Democrats’ socialist wish-list. This bill explodes the size of Government, while spending billions on liberal programs unrelated to the coronavirus. https://t.co/vo5AJJOKw8
— Congressman Ben Cline (@RepBenCline) May 15, 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the legislation an “urgently-needed relief package to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people from the devastation of the coronavirus crisis.” Many of her GOP colleagues, however, decried the bill as a roundup of Democratic priorities that had no chance of winning the votes of Senate Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax, called it a “crucial lifeline” for state and local governments.
I will proudly support the #HeroesAct
Yes, the price tag is big. But the economic hole created by this pandemic is much, much bigger — worse than both the Depression and the crash of 2008 — and demands a big response.
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) May 15, 2020
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, said the size and scope of the bill “reflects the sense of urgency that this crisis demands.”
Our students, workers, and families cannot wait for relief. Every day, the financial and human cost of the #COVID19 pandemic rises. The #HeroesAct reflects the sense of urgency that this crisis demands. We must take the next, vital step and advance this bill through the Senate. https://t.co/8o1DPysqFA
— Rep. Bobby Scott (@BobbyScott) May 16, 2020
Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said amid the partisan squabbling on the House floor Friday, “This is not a Democratic effort. This is an effort that is supported by Republicans, and somebody needs to say that. Republican governors, Republican mayors, and there will be Republican members of that side of the aisle that vote for this.”
Many Republicans in the House, meanwhile, accused their colleagues across the aisle of wasting valuable time.
(1/4) I just voted against an 1,800+ page, $3T partisan wish list pieced together exclusively by House Democrats. The main provisions of this misguided bill predate the pandemic and are not targeted at fighting COVID-19. Read my full statement here: pic.twitter.com/mDwyvgvbmt
— Rep. Rob Wittman (@RobWittman) May 16, 2020
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said the bill “outrageously attempts to use the present crisis to radically transform America,” adding that it is packed with “preposterous provisions” like a repeal of the state and local tax deduction cap for two years, which he said amounts to “a giveaway to the wealthy in high-tax states with virtually no benefit to anyone else.”
U.S. House lawmakers on Friday also approved a landmark rules change to allow members to work from afar during the pandemic.
The chamber approved a resolution that authorizes committees to work remotely during the pandemic and would allow voting by proxy. Under the resolution, one member could serve as a designated proxy for up to 10 members. It’s the first time in congressional history that remote floor voting will be allowed.
UPDATE: House Democrats just changed the rules. Now they can send men and women off to combat, raise your taxes, or pass socialized medicine without a majority even showing up to vote in person. https://t.co/FiMFygAWck
— Morgan Griffith (@RepMGriffith) May 15, 2020
The New York Times noted that the COVID-19 outbreak prompted Congress to alter the voting-in-person requirements that persisted even through Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak of 1793, the Spanish influenza of 1918, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Let me say at the outset that there is no substitute for the personal interaction of members in a committee room or on the House floor,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “But when that is not possible — because it poses a mortal danger to the health of members, staff, press, and the public — we must provide for alternative ways to do the people’s business.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who lives about 20 minutes away from the U.S. Capitol, said in an interview earlier this month, “I think I’m going to be a pretty busy guy if we actually end up with some kind of distance voting by proxy.”
The largely party line vote on the resolution was 217-189. Three Democrats voted against it: Luria, Rick Larsen of Washington and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona.
The resolution also directs a study into whether and how lawmakers can eventually vote remotely via secure technology.
Republican lawmakers berated that resolution, declaring that it sends the wrong signal to the country when essential employees are going to work in person every day, but members of Congress can opt to stay at home. They’ve also questioned whether remote voting is constitutional.
“You gotta be here to do the business of the people,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) “You can’t phone it in. You can’t mail it in.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) called it “a dark day in the history of our country” as Democratic leadership moved to allow proxy voting. Democrats are using the pandemic “to justify gutting the Constitution,” she said. “It is disgraceful.”
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