House returns to vote on $3 trillion relief package
House Democrats plan to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday despite misgivings and lukewarm support from various factions of their membership.
Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus were troubled enough by the bill (HR 6800) to call for a delay in the vote until next week to discuss potential changes. But senior House leaders decided to plow ahead as scheduled.
"I think, ultimately, we're going to be able to get this bill over the finish line on Friday," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said on a Wednesday webinar hosted by the BakerHostetler law firm. But with Republicans likely voting in lockstep against the measure, which was written without their input, Democratic leaders know they have few votes to spare and were taking no chances.
"I urge you to support this life-saving legislation and to be present on Friday," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said in a letter to colleagues Thursday that stressed the need for speedy action. She cited testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who a day earlier had advocated more spending from Congress to address a cratering economy with mass unemployment.
But some rank-and-file Democrats were still weighing their options. Progressive Caucus co-chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., had been pushing for her paycheck guarantee proposal that would provide businesses with grants to cover three months of payroll costs so they could continue to pay their employees, as well as other expenses like rent. Pelosi had said on several occasions that the idea was worthy of consideration, but ultimately leadership did not include it in the bill.
"There are part of it that are problematic," Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told reporters in a conference call Thursday. In a tweet, he denounced as "economic nonsense" a provision that would subsidize health insurance for the unemployed under the COBRA program instead of expanding Medicare and the Obama-era health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), which he said would be less costly.
And the election-year vote could place Democrats from swing districts in an uncomfortable spot. Freshman Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., who ousted a Republican incumbent in 2018, announced her opposition to the bill Thursday. "Messaging bills without bipartisan support are a disservice to the American people, especially during a time of crisis," she said in a statement.
Some party moderates said they would support the bill, but nonetheless expressed some misgivings. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and a member of the New Democrat Coalition, had been pushing for so-called stabilizers, or triggers, that would extend aid automatically based on economic conditions.
Pelosi had publicly endorsed the concept, but Beyer's proposal was left on the cutting-room floor. He said the Congressional Budget Office had concluded that stabilizers would have added "an enormous price tag" to the already costly bill. Lindsey McPherson has the full story here.
The bottom line: The House is likely to pass the bill, but the partisan measure won't become law.
Republicans prepare to kill House bill in the Senate
Republicans were laying the groundwork to kill the House bill in the Senate.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked the Democratic measure on the Senate floor Thursday as a "1,800-page seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities."
He faulted the bill for providing a "windfall to wealthy taxpayers in high-tax states" by lifting the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions. He criticized provisions to make it easier to vote by mail and allow undocumented immigrants to receive rebate checks.
And in what he called "the cherry on top," he singled out for ridicule a provision that would give legal marijuana businesses access to banking and insurance services, while ordering reports on barriers to access to the cannabis market for minority-owned businesses.
"The word `cannabis' appears in this bill 68 times," McConnell said. "More times than the word `job' and four times as many as the word `hire.' "
The White House weighed in Thursday as well with a veto threat. In a Statement of Administration Policy, it said the House bill was "more concerned with delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wishlists than with enhancing the ability of our Nation to deal with the public health and economic challenges we face."
The administration said it opposed the bill's $25 billion bailout for the Postal Service, election changes allowing voting by mail, and same-day registration and immigration enforcement restrictions, among other things.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., blamed Republicans for being unwilling to move forward on a new relief package. "How much economic hardship will suffice before Senate Republicans feel the urgency to act?" he asked on the floor.
CDC updates guidelines for re-opening
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday released guidelines for schools and businesses considering how and when to re-open as states lift restrictions that have been in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The guidelines include one-page checklists that they should meet before considering opening, such as ensuring that recommended health and safety actions are in place and the ability to monitor for potential cases. The guidance suggest schools and businesses should not reopen unless it is consistent with state and local orders and entities can protect people with higher risks of infection.
The guidance comes after the White House reportedly shelved an earlier guidance written by CDC staff. CDC Director Robert Redfield told members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee earlier this week that guidance would be available on the website soon.
Bars and restaurants would be encouraged to promote healthy hygiene habits and encourage employees to wear face coverings when possible. The guidelines also encourage them to increase cleaning and ventilation at their locations and to make sure patrons and employees can social distance, such as by spacing out tables and stools, limiting party sizes or encouraging drive-though, delivery or curb-side pick-up.
Schools are also urged to take similar steps like increasing cleaning and ventilation and to encourage social distancing by spacing out students and limiting mixing of small groups if possible.