Democrats controlling the House narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Thursday night, hours before President Trump revealed he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The vote on the bill came as top-level talks on a smaller, potentially bipartisan measure dragged on toward an uncertain finish. An air of pessimism has largely taken over the Capitol, but some Democrats are hoping the president's diagnosis will prompt him and Senate Republicans to reconsider their positions and support the House package.
"I certainly hope having this virus hit so close to home underscores for him how interconnected we all are and that we need to make sure that we are healing our communities if we want to be able to rebuild our economy," said Rep. Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat.
"That is the work House Democrats have been doing," she continued. "The legislation we passed is a critical next step to helping us stop the spread of this virus, protect the health of the American people, ensure the stability of state and local governments, small businesses and families."
The Democratic bill passed after a partisan debate by a 214-207 vote without any Republicans in support. The move puts lawmakers no closer to actually delivering aid such as more generous weekly unemployment payments, extended help for small businesses and especially troubled economic sectors such as restaurants and airlines, and another round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans.
Passage of the $2.2 trillion plan came after a burst of negotiations this week between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The Trump administration delivered concessions Wednesday, including a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and a markedly higher overall price tag of $1.6 trillion, but that failed to win over Pelosi.
“This isn’t half a loaf, this is the heel of the loaf,” Pelosi said in a televised interview Thursday. Pelosi spoke after the White House attacked her as “not being serious."
The ramped-up negotiations come as challenging economic news continues to confront policymakers. The airlines are furloughing about 30,000 workers with the expiration of aid passed earlier this year, and a report Thursday showed 837,000 people claiming jobless benefits for the first time last week. Most of the economic benefits of an immediate round of COVID relief could accrue under the next administration, and failure now could mean no significant help for struggling families and businesses until February.
The White House plan, offered Wednesday, gave ground with a $250 billion proposal on funding for state and local governments and backed $20 billion in help for the struggling airline industry.
Details on the White House offer were confirmed by congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door discussions.
As the talks dragged on, House leaders announced a Thursday evening vote on their scaled-back “HEROES Act," which started out as a $3.4 trillion bill in May but is now down to $2.2 trillion after Pelosi cut back her demands for aiding state and local governments. The legislation came after party moderates openly criticized her stance.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has drawn a line in the sand and warns that Trump won't approve legislation that approaches a $2 trillion threshold. But there's plenty of wiggle room in numbers so large, and the revenue picture for many states is not as alarming as feared when Democrats passed more than $900 billion for state and local governments in May.
Pelosi said Thursday that the administration is still far short on aid to state and local governments and in other areas.
“Some of you have asked, ‘Isn't something better than nothing?' No," Pelosi told reporters, citing the “opportunity cost" for provisions sought by Democrats but potentially lost in any rush to agreement.
At issue is a long-delayed package that would extend another round of $1,200 direct stimulus payments, restore bonus pandemic jobless benefits, speed aid to schools and extend assistance to airlines, restaurants and other struggling businesses. A landmark $2 trillion relief bill in March passed with sweeping support and is credited with helping the economy through the spring and summer, but worries are mounting that the recovery may sputter without additional relief.
Original story here.