House narrowly passes $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill

Near party-line vote sends massive relief bill to the Senate, where GOP leaders say they won't take it up without major changes

Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne is one of several Democrats in tough races who voted against the leadership-backed bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne is one of several Democrats in tough races who voted against the leadership-backed bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 15, 2020 at 9:28pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi muscled a $3 trillion aid package through the House late Friday, overcoming defections from her party's moderate wing who would have preferred to vote for a bipartisan measure.

The near party-line tally was 208-199, with 14 Democrats voting against sending the bill to the Senate. Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., was the lone Republican to support the measure, citing robust aid for states and localities like his suffering from revenue shortfalls and high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Among the Democrats who announced in advance they'd vote against the package were Cindy Axne of Iowa, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Ben McAdams of Utah and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. All are moderates in GOP-leaning districts.

"I think it's something that should have had more broad bipartisan support," said Cunningham. He argued that aid legislation "needs to be more narrowly focused on the people who are suffering as a result of the pandemic."

Cunningham won his seat in 2018 in a major upset; he's considered a top GOP target in November in a district that backed President Donald Trump in 2016 by nearly 11 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the contest a Toss-up.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., was the sole member of the party's more liberal wing to vote against the bill. She told reporters the measure didn’t go far enough to help workers and businesses.

“At the end of the day, what I'm talking about is protecting the economy and protecting people from dying, because businesses and workers feel too much pressure to go back to work too quickly because they don't have money,” said Jayapal.

Jayapal said she wished the legislation included the paycheck guarantee proposal she released in early April that would have ensured workers receive 100 percent of their salaries up to $100,000 and provided businesses with funding to cover “essential” expenses such as rent.

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who represents a moderate district in Orange County, Calif., voted against the rule that cleared the way for debate but later announced on the floor she’d vote for the bill.

“I know our states and local governments and our frontline workers cannot wait for federal help,” she said. “I therefore support this bill.”

The bill includes dozens of key Democratic priorities and has elicited sharp criticism from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Thursday called the 1,815-page package a “liberal wish list.” The White House issued a veto threat on the measure.

The bill includes nearly $1 trillion in aid to local and state governments, which are facing steep budget shortfalls following a drop off in income tax revenue due to skyrocketing unemployment, as well as a reduction in sales tax revenue after businesses mostly shut down due to stay-at-home orders.

The bill would provide $435 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, to send out more direct payments to households and fill in gaps from the previous round, estimated in March to cost $293 billion.

Families with adult children who are full-time students up to age 24 could now receive $500 from the previous round, which had cut off at age 17; the age limit would be raised for the new round as well, and up to three children per household would be eligible for the full $1,200 amount allotted to adults.

Immigration debate

It would also make individuals with a taxpayer identification number eligible for payments, even if they don't have a Social Security number. Critics said that would open the door to undocumented immigrants getting payments, and Republicans were nearly successful on a procedural vote to strip that provision.

The House rejected the motion to recommit on a 198-209 vote, despite 13 Democrats crossing the aisle to support it. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., voted against the motion.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders worked hard during the vote to persuade party moderates in tough races to oppose the GOP motion.

If the motion to recommit had been successful and the Social Security number requirement stripped out of the bill, it could have jeopardized passage due to more defections from progressive Democrats. "If that MTR is adopted, I'm a hard 'no,'" Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said before the vote.

Ocasio-Cortez ended up voting for the bill after the motion was defeated.

The legislation would also establish a nearly $200 billion grant program for employers to provide a pay increase for "essential workers," such as first responders and employees at hospitals, grocery stores and meat processing plants.

And expanded unemployment insurance benefits worth an extra $600 per week on top of regular state allotments would be extended from August through the end of January, and through March if regular state eligibility hadn't been used up yet.

Many Republicans oppose the higher weekly benefit because in many states it would pay unemployed workers more than they made before they were laid off, which they say will cripple firms' ability to reopen once lockdowns are lifted.

Panoply of aid

Democrats' bill would also provide:

  • $100 billion for a public health fund for hospitals and other health care providers.
  • $100 billion to help states address long-term school closures.
  • $100 billion in rental assistance for low-income households.
  • $75 billion to help homeowners pay their mortgages, property taxes or utilities.
  • $25 billion to help the Postal Service survive a steep drop off in revenue.
  • $10 billion to bolster the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as more and more people seek out federal food aid assistance.

One bipartisan proposal would beef up a tax credit in the March law to cover up to $5,000 of wages for employers experiencing sharp revenue declines. The House Democrats' bill would expand that provision to cover up to $36,000 of wages, as well as making employer health benefit expenses eligible, in line with recent Treasury guidance. The JCT said the so-called "employee retention credit" expansion would cost $164 billion over a decade.

Another costly tax provision doesn't enjoy the same bipartisan support, however: eliminating the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions for this year and next, at a $137 billion cost.

Republicans have mostly spent the last few days blasting the "SALT" cap removal as a sop to richer households in blue states that has nothing to do with pandemic relief.

The Senate won’t take up the legislation in its current form, though key senators will begin discussions with Democratic leaders and the Trump administration. McConnell, however, hasn’t yet said when that will be.

“I think there is a high likelihood we’ll do another bill,” he said on Fox News. “I’m not prepared today to put a precise date on when that will be.”

The Kentucky Republican said that bill must include liability protections for businesses that reopen while the virus is still active, calling it a “red line.”

White House officials have also said additional legislation is likely but that the negotiations should be put on hold while the effectiveness of the $2 trillion March aid package is reviewed.

“Some of the members say let’s take a pause,” Pelosi said on the floor. “Do you think this virus is taking a pause? Do you think that the rent takes a pause? Do you think that putting food on the table — or the hunger that comes if you can’t — takes a pause?”

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said he backed some of the bill's provisions, despite voting against it.

"It's a 3 trillion-dollar bill; there's bound to be good shit in it somewhere," Davis said. "But the bottom line was, there was no bipartisanship.”

Jessica Wehrman, Doug Sword and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.