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House Passes $2.2 Trillion Economic Stimulus Package, Trump Quickly Signs It

March 27, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package in what had to be record time on Friday, speedily sending the bill on to the White House for the president’s signature.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief,” President Donald Trump said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office less than an hour latter. In doing so, he thanked members of both parties for putting Americans “first.”

The measure was approved by voice vote, with large majorities of both parties supporting the largest economic relief bill in the nation’s history.

The mood of bipartisanship was exemplified by Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, who told his colleagues “we have no time to dither.”

“We have no time to engage in ideological or petty partisan fights. Our country needs us as one,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, agreed.

“While no one will agree with every part of this rescue bill, we face a challenge rarely seen in America’s history,” he said. “We must act now.”

Before the extraordinary session was over, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Today we’ve all acknowledged our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic — the worst pandemic in over 100 years.”

Later she added, “The American people deserve a government-wide, visionary, evidence-based response to address these threats to their lives and their livelihood and they need it now.”

Her sentiments were echoed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, who said, “We didn’t invite it. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t choose it. But we will fight it together — until we win, together.”

In response to the havoc caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the government is now poised to provide $500 billion in backstop loans to companies in the hardest-hit industries, including the airlines; offer $367 billion in low-cost loans to affected small businesses; boost the unemployment insurance budget by $250 billion; send payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans and send billions of dollars to states, municipalities and a health care system that’s struggling to keep pace with the public health emergency.

The lead-up to the vote itself was filled with drama. Much of the Capitol was a virtual ghost town and reporters were barred from the so-called “Speaker’s Lobby,” a large room off the House chamber, ordinarily a spot for quick interviews with lawmakers.

The House members who made it to the chamber Friday refrained from sitting in close proximity to one another, and bottles of hand sanitizer could clearly be seen at the end of every row of seats.

But the sense of quiet and calm was broken when Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., threatened to demand a roll call vote on the measure.

That would have required all House members to travel to Washington for the vote, dramatically slowing down the process.

Massie ignored reporters’ shouted questions as he entered the hall. But in a post on Twitter earlier Friday, he cited a section of the Constitution as being behind his rationale.

That section requires a majority of lawmakers — at least 216 — to be present and voting to conduct business.

The assertion angered lawmakers of both parties, and drew a sharp rebuke from President Donald Trump, who took to twitter to call Massie, “a third rate grandstander,” suggesting he should be thrown out of the Republican party.

Rep. Peter King seemed to agree, writing on Twitter that Massie’s threat both exposed his fellow members to the risk of infection and could delay relief for tens of millions of Americans.

“Disgraceful. Irresponsible,” he said.

The situation was diffused in the chamber when almost none of Massie’s fellow members rose to support his roll-call request.

The House vote came two days after the Senate voted 96-0 to advance the legislation.

It also came in the wake of a stunning jobs report Thursday in which the Labor Department said an unprecedented 3.3 million jobless claims had been filed last week, more than four times the previous record.

“The coronavirus crisis is creating serious disruptions in everyday life and significant economic impacts. It’s important to take bold and urgent action to protect the health, safety and economic well-being of the American people,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, after the vote.

A number of the coalition’s priorities were included in the package, including direct payments to individuals and families; expanded unemployment compensation funding, benefits, and eligibility; forbearance on certain federally-backed loans for students and homeowners; support for small businesses to continue paying their workers; funding to address medical and personal protection equipment shortages; and robust support for health care providers, frontline health workers and first responders, and states and local governments.

“These ideas will help ensure that American families, students, employers, health care providers, and communities have the resources and assistance they need in these difficult times,” Kilmer said.

Others took no comfort in voting to support the bill.

“I’m going to have to vote for something that has things in it that break my heart,” said Rep. David Schweikert, a conservative Republican from Arizona.

The Senate left Washington after Wednesday’s vote, and is not expected to return before April 20. The House is also expected to take an extended recess following Friday’s vote.

But even as they prepared to leave town, many lawmakers were already talking about the need for another stimulus bill to deal with such issues as expanded family medical leave and additional aid to state and local governments.

“Our work to help Americans during this emergency won’t stop here,” predicted Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Congress must do more to address the significant public health and economic consequences of the coronavirus,” he said. “In a fourth response package, I want to provide any needed additional support to people who have lost their incomes and to affected patients and health care providers.

“We should take bold action to improve our country’s economic health too. Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit will provide assistance to individuals who need it the most and who will immediately spend that money on life’s essentials. Making long overdue infrastructure investments will put people back to work and reinvigorate the economy,” Neal concluded.

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