WASHINGTON - The largest relief package in U.S. history is expected to be soon signed into law by President Donald Trump, after the $2 trillion coronavirus aid legislation passed a last-minute hurdle in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The unprecedented legislation provides billions of dollars in funding to hospitals, small businesses, industries hard-hit by quarantines as well as directly sending cash to most low and middle-class Americans in an attempt to contain massive economic damage and lessen its impact.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aimed to pass the bill Friday using a procedural maneuver that would have prevented lawmakers from having to fly in from around the nation to vote in person on Capitol Hill.
But Republican Congressman Thomas Massie of the southern state of Kentucky objected to passage of the stimulus by a voice vote, saying he objected to how much the rescue effort would add to the U.S. debt, which already totals more than $23 trillion.
Trump tweeted a warning earlier Friday telling the House Republican to not hold up passage of the bill.
“Looks like a third rate Grandstander named Rep. Thomas Massie, a congressman from, unfortunately, a truly GREAT State, Kentucky, wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress. He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay.”
Lawmakers returned from all around the country so that Congressional leadership could establish a quorum, overcoming Massie’s objections.
Many lawmakers admitted that while they would vote for the aid, the quickly-drafted legislation was far from perfect.
“We have to go into this vote eyes wide open,” Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor Friday. “What did the Senate Majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful.”
“The option that we have is to either let them suffer with nothing or to allow this greed and billions of dollars which will be leveraged into trillions of dollars to contribute to the largest income inequality gap in our future,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
The gigantic funding measure is designed to flood the U.S. economy with cash to overcome the significant downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy addressed criticism of the legislation on the House floor Friday, saying “We're not underwriting bad business practices, we are priming the pump. Ultimately, we are laying the foundation for rapid economic recovery. This bill is not only a rescue package, it is a commitment. A commitment that your government and the people whom you elected to serve will do everything We can to limit the harm and hardship you face.”
Pelosi said the Democratic lawmakers who negotiated the pact with the majority Republican leaders in the Senate and the White House “didn’t get everything we wanted” in the measure, but that they “won the day.”
Pelosi said she did not think the rescue package would end congressional efforts to prop up the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest, as the damage from the pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
She said she did not “think we’ve seen the end of direct payments” to American workers.
The rescue was approved by the Senate on a 96-0 vote late Wednesday after days of at times contentious negotiations.
Trump told reporters Wednesday evening at the White House that he would act quickly after congressional approval, saying the signing would mark “a great day for the American worker and for American families and, frankly, for American companies.”
“I encourage the House to pass this vital legislation and send the bill to my desk for signature,” he said. “Without delay, I will sign it immediately.”
The bill provides $500 billion in assistance to the hardest-hit major U.S. companies, another $367 billion to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, and $250 billion to bolster state-run unemployment compensation funds, as the ranks of the jobless have ballooned in the last two weeks.
Nearly 3.3 million furloughed workers filed for unemployment compensation claims last week, a U.S. record.
About $150 billion would go to help hospitals suddenly under the strain of caring for the flood of coronavirus patients.
Another major plank of the aid package is aimed at helping most American families, with the government set to send about $3,400 to families of four — two parents and two children. The payouts could cover about 90% of U.S. households.
Officials said some checks could be deposited in bank accounts within three weeks.
Individual taxpayers would get $1,200, and couples $2,400, with aid ending for individuals earning more than $99,000 annually and $198,000 a year for couples.
Trump says he wants to restart the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, as lockdown orders in many states have kept workers home and closed such businesses as restaurants, bars and movie theaters, as well as factories employing thousands of workers.
On Tuesday, he said he hopes the country is “raring to go” by Easter Sunday, April 12. But medical experts have voiced skepticism, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths rising by the hour.
The United States has more than 90,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 1,300 deaths.