Huge virus recovery bill clears US House, fate uncertain in Senate

by Michael Mathes

House Democrats on Friday narrowly pushed through the largest-ever US economic rescue package, but the coronavirus measure faces headwinds in the White House and Senate where Republicans bemoan its $3 trillion price tag.

The Heroes Act, which passed largely along party lines, provides some $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of cash disbursements to millions of hard-hit American families, funds for hospitals, hazard pay for health workers, and relief for devastated small businesses.

In an attempt to counter the pandemic’s devastating economic fallout, the 1,815-page measure also would extend food and unemployment aid; provide rent and mortgage support for struggling households, and pump billions of dollars into virus testing, tracing operations and treatment.

“We think this is a major investment in the lives of the American people and in the budgets of our states and localities,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

More than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus catastrophe and related business lockdown.

“They’re suffering so much, in so many ways,” Pelosi said. “We want to lessen the pain for them.”

In a sign that the pandemic has jumbled Capitol Hill’s routines, the House also passed a rules change that would allow remote voting by proxy for the first time in the chamber’s 231-year history.

Doomed in Senate

The legislation, which cleared the House on a vote of 208 to 199, with 14 Democrats and all but one Republican opposed, appears doomed in the Senate.

Many Republicans branded it an exorbitant liberal wish list packed with Democratic priorities like funding for vote-by-mail programs or marijuana studies and emergency checks for undocumented immigrants.

“It’s not a stretch to say that this bill is nothing more than a Democratic policy agenda masquerading as a response to the coronavirus crisis,” House Republican Tom Cole told colleagues.

“The Pelosi package will never see the light of day in the Senate,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, added on Twitter after the House vote.

In the Republican-controlled chamber, “we will work with the Trump Administration to jump start the economy and fund efforts to defeat COVID19.”

Senate leaders have expressed opposition to moving swiftly with a new tranche of relief, saying they prefer more time to study how the previous aid measures have helped American communities.

President Donald Trump has already signed four pandemic relief measures into law.

They include a $2.2 trillion package in March and a $483 billion measure to pump additional funds into a loan program for hard-hit small businesses.

Pelosi has said the latest bill is effectively an opening offer, and she expects Republicans to join Democrats in negotiating a compromise.

The White House on Friday threw cold water on the Democratic gambit, signaling the administration would not support such a pricey rescue deal.

“Another $3 trillion package seems off target to me,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters.

“I don’t believe we can spend our way into prosperity.”

More than 87,000 people have died from coronavirus in the United States, which has reported 1.44 million confirmed infections.

The crisis has led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and Trump has been keen to re-open shuttered state economies in a bid to jumpstart business activity that has been frozen during pandemic-related lockdowns. (AFP)