The House is on track to pass a nearly $500 billion coronavirus rescue package later Thursday, delivering emergency aid to small businesses and hospitals after weeks of stop-and-start negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders and the White House.
The bill will provide an immediate $321 billion infusion for the Paycheck Protection Program, the small business rescue fund that ran out of money last week. The $484 billion package also provides another $60 billion in economic disaster loans for small businesses, $75 billion in emergency relief for hospitals and $25 billion to ramp up coronavirus testing.
The package is the fourth in a series of coronavirus relief bills muscled through Congress in less than two months, totaling $2.7 trillion in federal funds to fight the pandemic. President Donald Trump offered a strong endorsement of the legislation earlier this week and is expected to quickly sign the aid bill after House passage.
“This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people impacted and the uncertainty of it all,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in floor remarks early Thursday. Pelosi wore a cream-colored scarf around her face until she spoke and wiped down the podium before and after her remarks.
The House will be a much different scene than the Senate, which passed the aid package earlier this week via a voice vote with only a handful of senators and staff in the chamber.
Hundreds of lawmakers — far more than when the House last voted for the $2 trillion CARES Act in late March — are expected to spend between four and five hours casting a series of two votes on Thursday. Lawmakers, who returned to Washington to reach a quorum in case any members demand a roll call vote, will shuffle in and out of the House in groups of 40, with floor officials disinfecting the chamber in between the two votes.
As the House opened its doors on Thursday morning, the normal procedure had changed drastically from the last time lawmakers arrived in town for a vote more than three weeks ago.
Officials in charge of the House floor have taken even more steps to halt the spread of the virus, which has so far infected almost 835,000 Americans and claimed over 42,000 lives. House staffers had placed signs on chairs in the chamber so members would know to sit far enough apart from each other to maintain proper social distancing.
And the House’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, has now recommended that members and staff wear masks at all times — a warning that many, though not all, have followed. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) openly criticized Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for not wearing a mask during a Wednesday evening meeting of the House Rules Committee.
Jordan and a handful of other Republicans were on the House floor Thursday morning without masks. But Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) along with GOP lawmakers like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) were seen wearing face coverings around the chamber.
The vote on the roughly half-trillion dollar package comes after more than two weeks of tense negotiations between Pelosi, GOP leaders and the White House, led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. What began as a GOP demand for an additional $250 billion to replenish Congress’s small business aid program has turned into a far larger package.
The deal struck between the two parties includes about $380 billion total in additional funding for small businesses, as well as huge sums for hospitals and disease testing — both of which had been pushed by Democrats.
Notably, the package does not include any relief for local governments, another one of the Democrats’ biggest demands. Many cities and towns across the country have seen huge shares of their revenue — payroll and income taxes — dry up amid the national economic lockdown.
Democrats have said they will immediately pivot to the next package, which they say must include another round of relief for state and local governments.
“For anyone who thinks this is the last train out of the station, that is not close to the case,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference with Pelosi this week.
Republican leaders, however, have said they are uninterested in quick action on another package. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he won’t move any additional relief packages without his chamber in session to fully legislate. Both the House and Senate are due to return May 4.
“We’ve allocated $2.8 trillion in the last month or so to fight this pandemic. That adds an awful lot of money to the national debt,” McConnell said Thursday on Kentucky radio station WYGE.
“So what I’ve said is we need to push the pause button here and remember the only ultimate way out of this is for the economy to slowly begin to open back up,” he said.
The House is also expected to pass legislation Thursday establishing a select coronavirus oversight committee, which will be led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). The vote comes after Pelosi abruptly scrapped her plans Wednesday to push through a House rules change to permit proxy voting during the pandemic.
Instead, Pelosi said, she and other top Democrats will work with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to come up with a bipartisan plan for how Congress will function in the coming months.
The bipartisan task force, led by McCarthy and Hoyer, is expected to meet Thursday afternoon.
Pelosi said she hopes to have agreement on a remote voting plan by then although Republicans in both chambers are pushing to have Congress resume its regular in-person schedule.