WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives was set on Friday to debate and vote on a $3 trillion Democratic bill aimed at easing the human and economic toll of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed 85,000 Americans and shut down much of the economy
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats crafted the far-reaching legislation that Senate Republicans have promised will be “dead on arrival” in their chamber.
The House measure includes $500 billion in aid to state governments, another round of direct payments to individuals and families to help stimulate the economy, and hazard pay to healthcare workers and others on the front line of the pandemic.
If passed, it would double the amount of spending Congress has authorized since March to fight the coronavirus.
But unlike the previous four coronavirus-response bills, this one appears ready to land on the House floor with little to no support from Republicans who accuse Democrats of using the crisis merely to send political messages.
“It’s more like a liberal Christmas card wish list,” Representative Tom Cole said during debate on the bill on Friday. “This bill is going nowhere, and nowhere fast.”
Republican leaders in Congress have said more time is needed to gauge the effectiveness of the $3 trillion in aid already enacted into law.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said any new legislation must protect businesses from any liability lawsuits they may face for reopening during the pandemic - an idea advanced by Republican President Donald Trump.
Some 36.5 million people - or more than one in five workers - in the United States have filed for unemployment since the crisis began.
Democrats argued Americans desperately need the relief. “I don’t give a damn about sending a message. I want to send help to those in desperate need,” said Representative James McGovern, citing long lines at food pantries around the country.
Highlighting the economic fallout, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, the country’s most populous state, on Thursday proposed deep government spending cuts and warned of further reductions without more aid from Congress.
“That’s the purpose of the federal government - to protect us,” he said.
Friday’s vote is likely to bring about 400 or so House members back to Washington for only the third time since late March. It will be governed by social distancing and other protective measures so the House does not become a breeding ground for the illness it is trying to battle.
Some moderate and liberal Democrats have expressed doubts about rushing the legislation through.
Given Republican opposition, Pelosi’s gambit might spark a new round of negotiations on further relief among the Republican-controlled Senate, the Democratic-led House and the Republican White House.
McConnell said on Thursday he was open to another coronavirus relief bill and was talking to members of Trump’s administration about possible legislation. But he declined to say in an interview with Fox News when his party might start negotiating another such bill.
Besides the coronavirus bill, the House will also try to pass a measure that would allow members for the first time to cast votes in the chamber by proxy during the pandemic.
Many Republicans also oppose that measure, saying it was essential that lawmakers vote in person in the House.
Pelosi said she did not know when the House would resume regular sessions, noting that Washington’s city government had pushed back its shelter-in-place order to June 8. “I would hope it wouldn’t be any longer than that,” Pelosi told reporters.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, and Patricia Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Writing by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Howard Goller
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