The House has officially passed a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at addressing the economic fallout resulting from efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic. It now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it.
The package offers significant relief for workers, small businesses, and corporations that have been affected by social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including the closures of restaurants, bars, and schools, as well as restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The legislation guarantees direct payment to most adults, as well as expanded unemployment insurance for workers who have been laid off. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged this is far from the end of the relief Congress should authorize.
“This cannot be our final bill,” Pelosi said during a floor speech ahead of the vote on Friday.
The bill’s passage follows days of back-and-forth — and occasional conflict — between Senate lawmakers including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who played a prominent role in crafting the legislation.
Despite the objection of Republican Rep. Thomas Massie (KY), the bill easily passed by a voice vote. A voice vote means the legislation is approved if the majority of lawmakers who are present vocalize their support for it — a test of House protocol during a time when most lawmakers in the lower chamber are working remotely to protect themselves and their staffers from the disease.
On Thursday night, Democratic and Republican leadership alike suddenly called members back to Washington after Massie suggested he might force a roll call vote in an attempt to defeat the bill. Massie got plenty of blame from colleagues on both sides of the aisle who accused him of needlessly endangering the health of his fellow lawmakers. (Congress already has several confirmed cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.)
President Trump also walloped Massie on Twitter for threatening to hold up the bill, calling him a “third rate Grandstander.”
Ahead of the vote, the House sergeant at arms issued strict guidance about social distancing at the Capitol, limiting the number of members on the House floor solely to those who were speaking while debate was taking place. Other measures were taken to reduce the number of people congregating: Lawmakers were also put into alphabetical groups to file in and vote in waves if a recorded vote was needed.
The passage of this bill is a notable step in addressing the overwhelming economic impact the pandemic has had, though more action could be on the horizon.
While the Senate won’t physically return to the Capitol until April 20, Pelosi was hesitant to commit to a date on her side, given that lawmakers might have to come back sooner and approve further emergency legislation. Leaders in the two chambers have resisted moving to remote votes up to this point, in part because it could conflict with practices established by the Constitution for convening in person.
“I think everybody has to be on call for what we need when we need it, and we don’t know what that might be,” Pelosi told reporters at her Thursday press conference.
Here’s what’s in the bipartisan package
A $500 billion loan program for businesses: The biggest sticking point between Democrats and Republicans throughout the negotiations was $500 billion in emergency loans for large businesses and municipalities grappling with the coronavirus outbreak. For instance, $50 billion of that money was allotted to passenger airlines, according to the Washington Post.
Rather than trying to negotiate that figure down, Democrats instead negotiated for oversight of the “slush fund.” Instead of giving the Trump administration broad discretion to make the loans, there will be a new inspector general in the Treasury Department specifically to oversee these funds, as well as a congressional oversight panel to examine how the money is being used.
After concerns emerged about Trump personally benefiting from the loans, Schumer’s office also announced they secured a provision that will “prohibit businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.” The children, spouses, or in-laws of lawmakers and executive officials also cannot receive these loans.
Some additional conditions championed by progressives and supported by the public, including a requirement for companies to implement a $15 minimum wage, have not made it into the final legislation. The package does limit layoffs by companies receiving the aid and bars stock buybacks.
“Unemployment insurance on steroids”: Schumer announced Monday afternoon that unemployment insurance will be expanded to grapple with a new surge in claims, calling it “unemployment insurance on steroids.” The new bill will increase unemployment insurance by $600 per week for four months. This money is in addition to what states pay as a base unemployment salary. This benefit would extend to gig economy workers, freelancers, and furloughed workers who are still getting health insurance from their employers but are not receiving a paycheck.
Funds for hospitals, medical equipment, and health care worker protections: The bill contains $130 billion to boost the health care system, according to Schumer. Of that, $100 billion will go to hospitals, $1 billion will go to the Indian Health Service, and the remainder will be used to increase medical equipment capacity.
Increased aid to state and local governments: Schumer also said about $150 billion of federal money would be allocated for state and local governments that are dealing with the impacts of the crisis in their communities, including $8 billion for tribal governments.
Direct payments to adults below a certain income threshold: The legislation includes a one-time $1,200 check that would be sent to most adults making $75,000 or less annually, according to past tax returns. A $500 payment would also be sent to cover every child in qualifying households. The final policy marks a significant change from the direct payments initially proposed by Republicans, which would have given less to many individuals who do not have taxable income. It now includes the majority of adults who are under the $75,000 threshold and phases out the payment as people’s incomes increase.
Loans to small businesses: $367 billion in the bill is aimed at providing loans for small businesses, according to the Washington Post. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will also be eligible for a payroll tax credit.