The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to help people and businesses cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the pandemic.
The massive bill — the largest bill of this kind in U.S. history — was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate late on Wednesday and also will provide hospitals with urgently needed medical supplies, now goes to Republican President Donald Trump, who is expected to promptly sign it into law.
“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate on the House floor.
Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.
Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request.
On Twitter, Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party.
“He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay,” Trump wrote as the House began debating.
Democratic and Republican leaders asked members to return to Washington to head off Massie’s gambit. Lawmakers from as far away as California were present for the debate. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members, who used hand sanitizer and in at least one case wore protective gloves.
Many of the House’s 430 current members were in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, which could put them at further risk of contagion.
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.
Older people have proven especially vulnerable to the disease, and the average age of House members was 58 years old at the beginning of 2019, well above the average age of 38 for the U.S. population as whole.
The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever by Congress.
The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.
It 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.
The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.
On Thursday, the United States surpassed China and Italy on as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 85,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,200.
Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.
© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.