Behemoth $2T COVID-19 aid bill clears U.S. House, signed by Trump

By: - March 27, 2020 12:35 pm

Photo by Martin Falbisoner | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

WASHINGTON — A $2 trillion bill to provide aid to American workers, health care providers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic passed the U.S. House on Friday and was quickly signed by President Donald Trump.

Many House members reconvened in Washington to approve the 880-page measure, which stands to be the largest economic aid package in U.S. history. The chamber passed the measure using a “voice vote” typically used for uncontroversial measures, despite the objection of one House Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who attempted to force a roll-call vote.

The massive bill — which would expand unemployment insurance, send direct checks to many Americans and offer financial aid to industries — cleared the U.S. Senate earlier this week. Trump said Wednesday that he would “sign it immediately.”

No one loves the final package, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle insisted as they spoke on the House floor ahead of Friday’s vote. Still, most of them were willing to stomach provisions they disliked, arguing that acting swiftly to combat the public health and economic crisis was their top priority.

“I urge my fellow colleagues to vote for this legislative package that will provide relief to struggling American families and ensure the tribal communities are not overlooked,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, who represents many of Arizona’s Native American tribes.

Republicans said the bill contained unnecessary spending items. Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican and leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, singled out money for the Kennedy Center, NPR, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment of Arts and Humanities and other organizations.

“The vote we take today may be the most monumental vote during our tenure in Congress, and the amount of money we are committing is in itself epic,” he said.  “These may be worthy or not, but they certainly have no place in an economic relief package, and it’s a shame that they’re in here.”

Likewise, Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, said the funding provisions weren’t all needed. That he had to support them to pass the bill, he said, “is ripping my heart out.”

“We all have these moments in our political lives where we walk up in front of this microphone and we’re going to say, ‘I’m going to have to vote for something that has things in it that break my heart, but we must do the right thing,’” he said. “We must get back to that economic growth; we must get back to that prosperity.”

Among the bill’s key provisions:

  • A dramatic increase in unemployment insurance benefits. That would include about $600 per person per week in federal money, which would be in addition to what people get from states.
  • Direct checks of $1,200 per person for many adults and $500 for dependent children. The Washington Post created a stimulus payment calculator.
  • Forgivable loans for small businesses to cover payroll and other business costs.
  • A $500 billion loan program that would aid airlines and other large industries impacted by the crisis.
  • $150 billion in aid for states and local governments.
  • $100 billion for emergency funding for hospitals.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have stressed that additional COVID-19 aid legislation will be necessary, but that they sought to quickly infuse cash into the health care system and the economy.

“We do know that we must do more … this cannot be our final bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday ahead of the bill’s passage. She said that state and local governments, as well as health care systems, will require more financial support.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments from Reps. Andy Biggs, Tom O’Halleran and David Schweikert. It was also updated to reflect the bill being signed into law, and the headline was changed to reflect that.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.