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House passes $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill amid faltering talks

Vote on sweeping measure gives rank-and-file Democrats something to tout back home if no bipartisan deal materializes

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., calls bill an attempt to "meet Republicans halfway."
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., calls bill an attempt to "meet Republicans halfway." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats passed their own revised version of a coronavirus aid package Thursday, in a largely symbolic expression of frustration with protracted talks on a bipartisan compromise.

On a party-line vote of 214-207, the House sent to the Senate a $2.2 trillion package that Republicans have lambasted as a costly “liberal wish list.” No House GOP lawmaker voted for it; 18 Democrats voted “no.”

There were 10 Republican no-shows on final passage who could have potentially flipped the outcome.

The Trump administration has offered about $1.5 trillion. But the divide between the two plans jumps to roughly $1 trillion once offsets are backed out of the equation, including what Speaker Nancy Pelosi said amounts to $265 billion in tax increases on well-off business owners that Republicans have rejected.

Senate Republicans want to spend even less: They chafed even at a $1 trillion package over the summer, before backing a bill with just $650 billion in relief — more than half of it offset.

The House bill won’t become law, but Democratic leaders said they wanted to outline their negotiating priorities and show how $2.2 trillion could be put to effective use. The move also allows some politically vulnerable rank-and-file Democrats to register their support for a robust aid package before heading home to campaign.

“It’s really important for people to see that we completely identify with the concerns that they have and how we have allocated the resources necessary to get the job done,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

And by attaching the measure to an unrelated vehicle that has already passed both chambers, they removed House Republicans’ ability to offer a “motion to recommit.” That’s a procedure that gives the minority one chance to amend the bill, often with cleverly-designed provisions intended to put vulnerable majority members on the spot.

Additionally the move gives the Senate, which is sticking around next week, an opportunity to take up a faster-moving vehicle for a potential compromise bill by skipping a procedural hurdle that could eat up valuable floor time.

[Pessimism creeps into revived coronavirus relief bill talks]

House leaders had delayed the vote by a day after talk turned hopeful Wednesday that a bipartisan deal could be within reach. While those talks continued Thursday, Pelosi sent signals to her caucus that a deal could take more time — if it happens at all.

Rejecting the notion that “something is better than nothing,” Pelosi said: “We’re not going to exploit the needs that people have in order to once again increase the national debt to help the high end.”

The Democratic bill provides another round of $1,200-per-adult tax rebates, expanded unemployment benefits, and more money for schools, health care and state and local governments, among many other things. But it chops roughly a third of the cost off of a $3.4 trillion aid measure the House passed in May.

State and local aid, for example, would be cut roughly in half, from $916 billion to $436 billion. Democrats said most of the savings would be achieved by shortening the time period that would be covered by new aid.

But Democrats also pumped some additional money into new priorities since their May legislation. Chief among them is a $120 billion fund for the pandemic-battered restaurant industry, along with $28 billion for the airline industry, which is now preparing for mass layoffs in the absence of any additional relief.

The measure “seeks to meet Republicans halfway, while addressing needs that have grown since May,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., in floor debate. “A strong vote tonight will show our will to act and bring us closer to delivering much-needed relief to American families.”

But Lowey’s Republican counterpart, Kay Granger of Texas, said the bill is too costly and contains too many provisions that have little to do with the pandemic. Those include measures enabling undocumented immigrants to receive tax rebates, delays in the 2020 census and “sweeping changes” to how elections are conducted, she said.

“It’s time for our leaders to come together, rather than take a vote on this damaging, partisan bill,” Granger said.  

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