U.S. House leaders plan to pass $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill Friday
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the chamber to pass an estimated $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill when it meets on Friday, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the unprecedented economic rescue legislation on Wednesday evening.
"Tomorrow we’ll bring the bill to the floor. It will pass with strong bipartisan support," Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters.
The legislation will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks once the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passes it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
The Republican-led Senate approved the bill - which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress - by 96 votes to zero late on Wednesday, after days of intense negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials.
The unanimous Senate vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.
The unanimous support also increased the bill's chances of easily winning approval in the House.
The package is intended to flood the country with cash in an effort to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 70,000.
The U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday that the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.
Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would be working on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session. Lawmakers have been told to be on call for possible votes.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan passed by the Senate. But he wants it to be allowed to work before deciding whether more legislation was needed.
"This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for," he told reporters.
Only two other countries, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned that the country looks set to become the global pandemic's epicenter.
The massive coronavirus rescue bill follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.
Trump has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House.
Pelosi said House leaders were planning a voice vote on the rescue plan on Friday, but would be prepared for other contingencies. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, a ballot recorded by name, lawmakers might be able to vote by proxy, as not all would be able to be in Washington.
"If somebody has a different point of view (about the bill), they can put it in the record," she said.
There was some opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposes the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than recording every House member's position on it.
"I'm having a real hard time with this," Massie said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.
McCarthy predicted the measure would pass Friday morning following a debate.
The $2.2 trillion bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.
The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.
And it includes $400 million to expand voting by mail and early voting in every state, amid some concern that coronavirus could interview with November's general election. The virus has already postponed some of the primary elections, or nominating contests, to pick which Democrat will oppose Trump as he vies for re-election.
The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14. Many want to return for the vote, but it would be difficult for all to attend, given that at least two have tested positive for the coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine, and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.
The Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Thune, missed Wednesday's vote because he was not feeling well. His spokesman said Thune, 59, flew back to his state, South Dakota, on a charter flight Wednesday, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer and wearing a mask.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.