After some initial delays, the House overwhelmingly passed and sent to President Trump a $484 billion coronavirus relief package, even as some members were already at odds over the next phase of rescue legislation. Once he receives the bill, Trump will swiftly sign off on the fourth coronavirus-related spending measure since early March. This bill would replenish funding to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and provide other spending for hospitals and virus testing.
The bipartisan 388-5 vote - four Republicans Massie, Hice, Buck and Biggs voted against it; one Democrat, Ocasio-Cortez voted no and independent Justin Amash voted present - was delivered by passed wearing masks and entering the House chamber under strict health precautions. Several members lamented people who’ve died from or are critically ill with the virus, including one lawmaker’s sister.
"This is really a very, very sad day,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, giving a less-than-triumphant sendoff to the bill on a day when about 4.4 million additional workers were reported to have applied for unemployment benefits last week. “Our nation faces a deadly virus, a battered economy,” and hundreds of thousands of ill people. “Some died, and millions out of work," said Pelosi.
When asked by CNN if Dems should have held out longer, AOC who voted against the bill, said "I truly hope I’m wrong, my concern is we are giving Republicans what they want. McConnell is already talking about the deficit the moment we talk about getting people relief... That to me is a signal that Republicans are done."
According to Bloomberg, the House - which had not convened as a group since March 27 - also adopted a measure creating a special subcommittee to oversee the spending of coronavirus funds. The floor action was carried out with carefully choreographed movement and spacing of lawmakers to guard against spreading any infection. Groups of 60 members entered the chamber in alphabetical order to vote, then exited on the opposite side.
While the bill was destined to pass, much of Thursday’s debate centered on GOP claims that Pelosi and Democrats needlessly delayed agreement on the bill, and Democratic arguments that Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused for too long to add items that were needed, only to agree at the end.
The final bill includes $320 billion to make new loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small business that keep employees on the payroll for eight weeks. It sets aside $30 billion of the loans for banks and credit unions with $10 billion to $50 billion in assets, and another $30 billion for even smaller institutions.
The measure includes $60 billion in loans and grants under a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and makes farms and ranches eligible for the loans. Also, there is $75 billion for hospitals, with a significant portion aimed at those in rural areas, and $25 billion for virus testing.
The testing funds include $18 billion for states, localities, territories, and tribes to conduct Covid-19 tests, $1 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $1.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health. As much as $1 billion would cover costs of testing for the uninsured.
According to some estimates, the additional PPP funds may be allocated - this time to those who truly need them instead of major public companies - in as little as a day, which means that the entire circus will repeat again in a week or so. According to BofA estimates, a total of just under $1 trillion in PPP funding will have to be provided which means that at least one more package will have to be signed into law.