The U.S. House is shown here in a file photo from October 2019. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday night narrowly passed a slimmed-down $2.2 trillion Democratic coronavirus relief bill that retains hundreds of billions in aid for states and local governments, boosts unemployment benefits and extends another round of $1,200 checks for each taxpayer.
But the package, passed on a 214-207 vote, with 18 Democrats splitting from their party, is certain to die in the Senate unless an agreement is struck with Republicans and the White House on the cost. That deal remained out of hand Thursday night despite talks off and on this week between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“We’re hopeful that we can reach agreement, because the needs of the American people are so great, but there has to be a recognition that it takes money to do that and it takes the right language to make sure it is done right,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a press conference earlier in the day.
Without an agreement, the House likely would be done for this session of Congress and would head home in advance of the November election. The Senate is scheduled to return next week and to work through much of October as it takes up the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Among Democrats who voted no, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said she could not back “another partisan exercise” and urged leaders to continue to seek an agreement. Spanberger is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that in September offered a framework for an agreement. She also opposed an earlier $3 trillion House Democratic bill.
A spokesperson for Rep. Cindy Axne, an Iowa Democrat, said she would also oppose the bill. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., also voted no.
Axne said in a statement that she has pushed House leadership to “meet the White House and Senate Republicans in the middle” on a deal.
“This move toward compromise has demonstrably renewed momentum for a deal, and we are closer than we have been in months, but the only thing that will deliver the help my constituents need is a bill that will actually become law,” Axne said in a statement. “As negotiations between our two sides continue, we need to give these discussions our full attention and support. Millions of Americans cannot afford for us to fail in this effort – we must continue to work towards an agreement and vote when we know we have a deal in hand.”
Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer voted against the last House package but voted in favor of this version.
“While I remain hopeful that the Senate and the administration will come to the table and negotiate in good faith on a bipartisan coronavirus relief package, my constituents can no longer afford to wait,” Finkenauer said in a statement. “Although imperfect, this package includes the immediate relief our families need to pay rent and keep food on the table, and that our fire departments, community hospitals and small businesses need to continue serving Iowans.”
On pandemic relief, Roll Call reported that Mnuchin on Wednesday offered Pelosi a $1.62 trillion bill that would have included $250 billion in aid to state and local governments. That still left the White House at odds with Democrats on the total cost and specific provisions.
The White House was critical of the new Democratic legislation. “I would say Nancy Pelosi is not being serious. If she becomes serious, then we can have a discussion here,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday, also criticizing the Democratic bill for allowing undocumented immigrants who pay taxes but don’t have Social Security numbers to receive the $1,200 in direct aid.
House Democrats in their new bill would restore the $600-a-week unemployment supplement retroactive to the week of Sept. 6 and ending Jan. 31, 2021. Those benefits would also include workers in the gig economy.
State, local and tribal governments would also be provided with one year’s worth of financial assistance to pay for first responders, health care workers, teachers, transit workers and others at a cost of $436 billion. Of that sum, $238 billion would go to states, based on a state’s share of unemployed workers.
If the bill doesn’t pass the Senate, Americans will go without aid as the country slips deeper into a recession with a 8.4% unemployment rate. More than 205,000 Americans have died from the virus and more than 7 million are infected.
Republicans have objected to the removal of $600 million in funding for police and have pushed for the Paycheck Protection Program to be extended.
“House Democrats couldn’t miss a chance to ‘defund the police,’” Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “This latest bill from the Speaker is no more serious than any of their other political stunts going back months. If they continue to refuse to get serious then American families will continue to hurt.”
House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said on the House floor that the stimulus package, updated from a version passed by the House earlier this year, includes aid for the airline industry, which started furloughs and layoffs Thursday, and provides more funding for schools and child care services.
“Negotiations are continuing, and I ardently hope that we can soon return to this floor with a bipartisan agreement,” Lowey said. “In the meantime, a strong vote tonight will show our will to act and bring us closer to delivering much-needed relief to American families.”
Highlights in the new Democratic package for states:
- $225 billion for education, including $182 billion for K-12 schools, $39 billion for postsecondary education and $57 billion to support child care.
- $15 billion in funding for states and local governments to help fund small businesses with 20 or fewer employees or 50 employees if the business is in a low-income area.
- $21 billion for states to assist homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage, property taxes, property insurance, utilities and other housing costs..
- $925 million in funding to help states process unemployment insurance claims.
- $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and isolation measures.
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