Behemoth COVID-19 Response Bill Clears U.S. House, Signed by Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

A $2 trillion bill to aid workers, health care providers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is now law after President Trump signed it Friday following its passage in the U.S. House.

Many House members reconvened in Washington, D.C., to approve the 880-page measure, which stands to be the largest economic aid package in U.S. history. The chamber passed the measure using a “voice vote” typically used for uncontroversial measures, despite the objection of one House Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who attempted to force a recorded vote.

The massive bill — which would expand unemployment insurance, send direct checks to many Americans and offer financial aid to industries — cleared the U.S. Senate earlier this week.

No one loves the final package, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle insisted as they spoke on the House floor ahead of Friday’s vote. Still, most of them were willing to stomach provisions they disliked, arguing that acting swiftly to combat the public health and economic crisis was their top priority.

Among the bill’s key provisions:

  • A dramatic increase in unemployment insurance benefits. That would include about $600 per person per week in federal money, which would be in addition to what people get from states.
  • Direct checks of $1,200 per person for many adults and $500 for dependent children. The Washington Post created a stimulus payment calculator.
  • Forgivable loans for small businesses to cover payroll and other business costs.
  • A $500 billion loan program that would aid airlines and other large industries impacted by the crisis.
  • $150 billion in aid for states and local governments.
  • $100 billion for emergency funding for hospitals.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have stressed that additional response legislation will be necessary, but said they sought to quickly infuse cash into the health care system and the economy.

“We do know that we must do more … this cannot be our final bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday ahead of the bill’s passage. She said that state and local governments, as well as health care systems, will require more financial support.

U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) presided over the House during the historic vote, and members of Maryland’s congressional delegation hailed the legislation.

“This session will be different than most where we come together, we reach out our hands, we hug one another in affection,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the House floor. “People who can see the chamber now will see that we are keeping a distance from one another, not out of hostility but out of love for one another that we may keep one another healthy and safe.”

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) said the package “saves lives.”

“It’s about addressing the immediate concerns of treating sick people and making sure our nation’s economy can bounce back when the pandemic is over,” he said. “This is a family-first compromise bill that we can all be proud to support.”

U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) called the vote “another significant step forward in our coronavirus response effort by passing a wide-ranging bill that will not only inject critical funding into our health care system, but also expand and enhance key programs to protect workers and families as we continue to practice social distancing and help slow the spread of the virus.”

But Sarbanes, the lead House sponsor of a package of election and government reform bills, said the $400 million in the new measure for assistance to help states conduct safe and accessible elections in November “falls far short of the $2 billion that states will most certainly need to boost the resiliency of our election systems in the face of this public health emergency. As Congress considers future coronavirus response packages, I will continue to call for robust election funding to protect voters, safeguard poll workers and ensure the right to vote.”

And Hoyer criticized the way the legislation treats the District of Columbia.

“I am personally disappointed that Senate Republicans insisted on shortchanging the 700,000 people in the District of Columbia by $700 million, treating the district as a territory and not as a state for the purposes of allocating stabilization funds, as is so often the case,” he said. “This jeopardizes the entire national capital region.”

Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland’s delegation, supported the measure but expressed disappointment with the process leading up to the vote and some of the provisions in the legislation.

“We’re here a week too late,” he said on the House floor. “Not because we didn’t know what our citizens and businesses needed, but because too many in the congressional swamp felt that you never let a serious crisis go to waste. Filling this important bill with pork and earmarks — like $25 million to the Kennedy Center, $75 million to NPR, $75 million to the National Endowment of the Humanities — instead of more masks and ventilators.”

Harris, a physician, also referred to COVID-19 as “the Wuhan virus.”

“Many Americans do need our thanks,” he said. “Thank you to the frontline health care workers who selflessly and compassionately care for victims of the Wuhan virus. Thank you to President Trump for his leadership and his transparency with the American people in this time of crisis.”

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

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