After extensive behind-the-scenes maneuvering and some strange procedural twists, late Thursday the House cleared a $484 billion bill replenishing funding for the small-business Paycheck Protection Program with some additional money for hospitals and a national testing strategy. The president has indicated that he will sign the legislation, and for once no one fears he will flip-flop. It was approved by the Senate earlier this week on a voice vote.
The bill is being labeled an “interim” coronavirus stimulus measure, falling between the $2.2 trillion legislation enacted in March and a future effort that looks likely to trigger more intense partisan battles over the scope, duration, and targeting of federal relief. Democrats in both Houses are already talking about significant new aid for state and local governments facing disastrous revenue shortfalls, and extended assistance for individuals beyond the stimulus checks and unemployment-insurance benefits in the earlier bill. And Republicans are bringing back ancient anti-debt-and-deficit talking points they have largely discarded during the Trump administration.
Five members of the House voted against the “interim” bill after it became apparent the chamber would not approve it by unanimous consent. Four were hard-core conservatives (House Freedom Caucus bravos Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, and Jody Hice of Georgia, plus Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who thwarted a unanimous consent motion for an earlier $2.2 trillion bill) who mostly opposed the measure on fiscal grounds. They were joined by Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who called the bill miserly toward both individuals and state and local governments, and expressed fears Republicans would block additional relief, as The Hill reported:
“Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment. It’s not helpful for people to say, ‘Oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it. We got a nickel, we got a dime in a trillion dollar bill, so a nickel is more than nothing so we should support it,’” Ocasio-Cortez said, calling that kind of approach “unacceptable.”
“I would be amenable to accepting this kind of logic if Congress actually was in session and convening. But if we’re going to say that this new bill is going to give us $5, and then Congress is going to peace out for another month-long recess, I’m here to say that’s not going to help our communities,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
Passage of the legislation took place under strange and unprecedented procedures, as Roll Call reported:
Before walking onto the House floor Thursday, members walked past tables with disposable gloves and face masks — a reminder of the disease that so far has infected nearly 850,000 Americans and claimed the lives of 47,000.
Nearly all of the members on the floor wore disposable face masks, though House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., sported a homemade New England Patriots face mask.
Voting on the aid bill was also much different than anything members experienced before, with lawmakers assigned to one in a series of nine groups to reduce the number of people on the floor at one time. The socially distanced voting series took about two hours to complete.
All of the logistical hurdles didn’t prevent rare, overwhelming bipartisan approval on the bill. But this may well be the last coronavirus-related legislation to pass with only token opposition.