On Friday evening, the House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill providing assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, student debt forgiveness and bolstered Medicaid and Medicare. The bill is known as the HEROES Act, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.
The measure, over 1,800 pages long, is unlikely to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled Senate, although Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the Senate will pass further COVID-19 relief legislation. But he said he will work with the White House to determine what’s needed and how soon.
McConnell has backed off an earlier statement that states should be allowed to go bankrupt, conceding that there will have to be another relief bill at some point. However, he said his red line is the inclusion of liability-protection provisions for businesses to keep them from being sued if workers or patrons are infected with COVID-19.
The House bill will now go the Senate, where Republican senators have already indicated the bill is dead on arrival.
Earlier Friday evening, the House also passed a measure to temporarily allow both remote voting by proxy and official remote committee proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic. The nearly party-line vote, 217 to 189, means that a member present at the Capitol would be able to cast a vote on behalf of up to 10 absent colleagues.
The pandemic has raised concerns about having lawmakers gather to vote, particularly since many members of Congress are older than 60 and therefore more vulnerable to serious illness caused by the virus.
House Republicans opposed the rule change, arguing that members of Congress are essential workers and should return to the Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said when she announced the legislation on Wednesday that the plan was “necessary to address the corona crisis,” arguing that the bill’s priorities were “opening our economy safely and soon, honoring our heroes, and then putting much needed money in the pockets of Americans.”
The House votes came as the unemployment rate rises to levels unseen since the Great Depression, with millions of Americans out of work or furloughed.
The bill includes provisions to assist farmers, protect renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures, and extend family and medical leave provisions previously approved by Congress. The legislation would also provide relief for essential workers, such as aviation, rail and Amtrak workers, as well as extend work visas for immigrants.
It faced opposition from Republicans and more moderate Democrats in the House because of its size, although progressives argue the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, known for her progressive politics, told reporters Friday that she would not support the bill.
“I, unfortunately, will be voting no on the bill, and really, this was a difficult decision for me,” Jayapal said, explaining that the bill did not do enough to ensure paycheck guarantees for struggling workers.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent progressive freshman in the House, told reporters that it was a “tough bill.”
“I think we can go further, especially when it comes to healthcare,” Ocasio-Cortez said, calling the bill a “mixed bag.”
Meanwhile, Republicans argued that the bill was far too large. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, said on the House floor Friday that it was a “dark day for our country.” Republican Congressman Tom Cole called the legislation “massive and unwarranted.”
“I’m just mystified why my friends felt the need to inject a clearly partisan bill and think this is going to move us down the road in the right direction. It’s not,” Cole said on the House floor.
In his weekly press conference, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appealed to the 40 freshman Democrats who flipped Republican seats in 2018, urging them to vote against the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously said it was time to hit “pause” on negotiating the next round of coronavirus legislation.
“The president and Senate Republicans are going to be in the same place,” he said in an interview on Fox News on Thursday. “We will let you know when we think the time is right to begin to move again. I think there’s a high likelihood we’ll do another bill, and I’ve just indicated what we’ll need to be a part of any bill that actually gets a presidential signature and is brought up and passed by a Republican majority in the Senate.”
Kimberly Brown and Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.
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