House Poised to Vote on 5,593-Page Relief and Spending Bill
(Bloomberg) -- The House was poised to vote Monday on a massive 5,593-page package of legislation that combines pandemic relief with a bill to fund government operations just hours after lawmakers got the text.
The roughly $900 billion aid package is attached to a $1.4 trillion measure to fund government operations through the end of the fiscal year. Also included are major tax, energy and national security policy measures.
Congressional leaders said they expect the legislation to pass both chambers and the White House said President Donald Trump would sign it. Once the House acts it will go to the Senate.
“We’re going to stay here until we finish tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier at the Capitol.
Lawmakers from both parties complained about the push to vote with such little time to digest the contents of the sprawling piece of legislation.
“It’s not good enough to hear about what’s in the bill. Members of Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on,” Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter.
Republican Representative Andy Biggs, head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, likewise lambasted the schedule.
“No one will have the time to read and vet this monstrosity,” he tweeted.
Because of the time needed to finish votes and enroll the lengthy legislation on parchment paper so that Trump can sign it, the House on Monday afternoon passed a seven day stopgap spending bill as a backup measure to prevent a shutdown. The Senate has not yet indicated when it would pass the stopgap bill, but it could do so quickly if no senator objects.
After months of stalemate, the deal was brokered during more than a week of furious negotiations, sparked by a group of Democratic and Republican senators who drew up their own compromise proposal and urged their leaders to act.
It also came at the last possible moment for Congress to act before lawmakers are set to leave Washington for their year-end break.
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The pandemic-relief portion would provide direct payments of $600 to most Americans and $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits through March. Expiring programs for gig workers and the long-term unemployed also would continue.
There would be $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses. The package includes money for transportation -- including for airlines -- vaccine distribution, schools and universities, food aid, and many other provisions.
Negotiators couldn’t bridge partisan differences over a liability shield for companies wanted by some Republicans, and aid for state and local governments that Democrats had demanded, and they left those provisions out. A last-minute dispute over the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority threatened to derail an agreement until a compromise late Saturday cleared the way for the broader deal.
Because it’s being included with the government-funding legislation, the haggling over the relief package forced Congress to enact a third temporary funding bill this month to avert a partial government shutdown. The House and Senate late Sunday passed a one-day extension to give time for votes on Monday.
“At long last we have the bipartisan breakthrough the country has needed,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in announcing that the agreement had been reached.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer lauded the deal, although they expressed disappointment that the package wasn’t bigger.
“While this bill is far from perfect -- nor is it the bill that we would pass if Democrats had a majority in the Senate -- it is a strong shot in the arm to help American families weather the storm,” Schumer said at a news conference Sunday with Pelosi. “We will do more, we must do more.”Pelosi underscored that on the House floor Monday, saying, “We will need to do more.”
President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday said he applauds Congress’s bipartisan agreement, but he described the package as providing “temporary relief.”
Republicans have a different take, with outgoing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying Monday that “this will take us through the recovery.” He said on CNBC, “This is a large bill and has a little bit of everything for everybody.”
McConnell has said he expects another relief proposal from Biden, but he hasn’t backed away from his opposition to direct aid to states and localities, nor his insistence that employers be protected from Covid-19-related lawsuits. That signals the fight over any new round won’t be any less contentious.
Pelosi will have a narrower majority in the House next year and Democrats would have to win both runoffs for the Senate in Georgia on Jan. 5 to have nominal control in that chamber. That will make it harder for Democrats to move on legislation without some cooperation from Republicans.
The final deal came about after a months-long standoff that followed passage in March of the largest in a series of pandemic relief packages: a $1.8 trillion mix of spending and tax breaks that represented the biggest such measure in U.S. history. Since then, the economy has struggled to fully recover and another round of lockdowns is threatening to put millions of jobs at risk at a time U.S. deaths from the novel coronavirus have surpassed 300,000.
The relief plan comes as the economy is showing signs of deterioration.
Some 7.8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since June as benefits from the previous Covid relief package lapsed, according to an analysis of Census data by economists at the University of Chicago and University of Notre Dame.
The 2.4 percentage point rise in the estimated U.S. poverty rate through November is nearly double the largest annual increase since the 1960s, the economists said. The increase in poverty has been sharpest in states with more limited unemployment insurance benefits.
Separately, a government report last week showed U.S. retail sales tumbled more than expected in November, while the latest weekly jobless claims figure jumped to the highest level in three months.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.