House Democrats Pass Relief Bill Expected to Fail in Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., smiles during a Thursday news conference on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — That it will be dead on arrival in the Senate is essentially a foregone conclusion but on Friday, the House sallied forth voting 208-199 to pass the $3 trillion Heroes Act, a Covid-19 relief package that Democrats argue fills in the gaps left open in previous deals while Republicans deem it a pointless publicity stunt.

The bill was a point of much contention on Capitol Hill where lawmakers were already bitterly divided over how to conduct business as they weigh how to legislate in unprecedented fashion.

The novel coronavirus has swept through the United States, infecting over 1.4 million, killing over 85,000 and trillions of dollars have already been approved by Congress in four previous relief packages aimed at cushioning the blow for businesses, workers and their families although the process has often been fraught with difficulties.

The package spans 1,815 pages and is not expected to pass in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell relegated it ahead of the vote as a “liberal wish list” that is “hardly salvageable,” and containing a “parade of absurdities.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi defended it as a negotiating tool and means to flesh out a more inclusive response to the pandemic.

Inside of its pages, the package purports vesting states with $500 billion plus $375 billion for local governments to confront the pandemic, including earmarks for testing and contact tracing. There is also relief built in for renters and homeowners plus hazard pay earmarked for essential workers and $20 billion each for tribes and territories.

SNAP receives a boost of $10 billion and food banks would be infused with $150 million. Small businesses would see another $10 billion in grants too. Fresh authorization for a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks per person or up to $6,000 per household are also included.

Reimbursements for personal protective equipment would flow through the Federal Emergency Management Agency if made into law, including a $500 million grant for firefighters and EMTs.

Increased reporting requirements for pharmaceutical manufacturers are also factored in, including terms that disclosures must be made when a drug or active ingredient for Covid-19 treatments are made overseas.

“‘Oh, my goodness. We put this bill on the floor,’” Pelosi said Friday, offering a sarcastic impression of oppositional Republicans before recounting the lengthy bipartisan negotiations struck from March through April to pass relief efforts spearheaded by Republican leadership in the Senate.

“Don’t you take pride in the House of Representatives having the same opportunity and the same privilege as Republican leadership in the Senate for us to put forth our bill?” she said.

Unmoved, Republicans like Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole suggested Pelosi would be better sending the bill “straight to Santa Claus” during his remarks Friday. “It would have a better chance of becoming law that way.”

Pelosi later said the $3 trillion package wasn’t a “Christmas tree.”

“This is a very strategically tailored piece of legislation strictly to meet the needs of the American people. To do anything less would be irresponsible. There’s more we could have done, but again, we wanted to keep the cost in line,” she said.

The package has received endorsements from groups like National Nurses United, who approve its stricter safety and emergency mandates for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its unequivocal support for enforcement of the Defense Production Act.

Better reporting transparency on national supply chain logistics, an issue the Trump administration waffled on for weeks is also included.

GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California slammed the bill repeatedly, lamenting that its proposal without committee review and its expansion of voting by mail were an affront to democracy. Although he indicated he said he was not completely opposed to “doing more.”

“I wouldn’t wait until December,” McCarthy quipped. “But I also wouldn’t pass bills without hearing or feedback. States are beginning to open up. The $3 trillion that was already passed continues to be implemented.”

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, broke with his party, telling Fox News there was much in the bill he wouldn’t support normally but since Leader McConnell refused to pass more aid to state and local governments in the Senate, his hands were tied.

“New York will absolutely collapse if that aid money is not there,” King said.

For several Republicans, like Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko, provisions expanding work authorizations and stimulus checks for immigrants that hit a sour note.

“It gives people who are here illegally $1,200. It lets criminals who are convicted of murder or rape, just because they are 50 years old or older out of prison,” Lekso said.

In fact, the bill recommends inmates over 50, those who are pregnant or those with fragile health be considered for release after review.

The legislation requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release those detained after review, too.

The Department of Homeland Security is also directed to strictly enforce social distancing at facilities, provide “sufficient” supplies of soap and hand sanitizer and provide access to legal resources.

Though it won’t pass in the Senate and would likely be vetoed by President Trump on the very grounds that it includes $25 billion infusion for the U.S. Postal Service, something he threatened to veto the CARE Act on before, it gives Democrats a slew of new policies to push forward in the weeks ahead.

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