WASHINGTON — The U.S. House early Saturday morning approved an emergency stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic after President Donald Trump signaled his support for the bill.
The multi-billion dollar package aims to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, and mitigate its economic effects as fears of recession loom.
The coronavirus response bill — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — passed 363-40, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The 40 votes against the bill were all Republicans, including Colorado’s Ken Buck. The House’s only independent lawmaker, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, voted “present” on the bill. Another 26 lawmakers did not vote.
Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse issued a statement calling emergency support “critical to our nation’s public health response.”
“However, more support is clearly needed, as the coronavirus spreads and deepens impacts on workers and families,” he said.
As of Friday, March 13, Colorado reported 77 presumptive positive cases of the virus and its first COVID-19 death, a woman in her 80s who had an underlying health condition.
Passage came hours after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the pandemic, freeing up as much as $50 billion to help the country weather the pandemic and waiving restrictions on health providers and facilities.
The House bill would provide free access to tests for the virus, including for those without health insurance. It would also give workers affected by the virus paid family and sick leave, boost unemployment benefits, strengthen government food programs for children, older people and those with low incomes and help states meet expenses for Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.
“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a news conference ahead of the vote. “We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope so that we can pursue the precise, science-based response that is necessary.”
Pelosi was engaged in intense negotiations over the bill with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional Republicans ahead of the vote. Trump tweeted his support for the measure ahead of its passage.
“I fully support H.R. 6201: Families First CoronaVirus Response Act,” he wrote. “I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES! … Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!”
The president’s endorsement was not enough to sway Buck, who took to Twitter to call the package “a 110-page, multi-billion dollar boondoggle shoved on us at the stroke of midnight.”
We have no idea what the actual price tag is or how it will impact small businesses. We all want our country to get back on its feet, but this isn’t the way to do it.
— Congressman Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) March 14, 2020
Colorado’s Scott Tipton parted ways with Buck, a fellow Republican, and voted yes, saying that while he has some concerns with the details in the bill: “There are, however, much more severe consequences should Congress have failed to unite and act with great urgency tonight.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted Thursday that the Senate would cancel its scheduled recess next week to consider “bipartisan” stimulus legislation.
McConnell said Thursday the package Pelosi introduced earlier this week didn’t not meet that standard, calling it “an ideological wish list” on the Senate floor.
But he signaled in a statement Saturday that Senate passage of the final bill was likely. “Of course, Senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House. But I believe the vast majority of Senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses,” McConnell said.
In a letter sent Thursday to members of the House, Pelosi urged quick congressional action as schools and businesses shut down and shifted online to slow the spread of the virus.
“Time is of the essence,” she wrote. “During this time of crisis, the strong and steady leadership of our members working together is urgently needed.”
On Friday, CDC’s website cited 1,629 confirmed and presumptive positive coronavirus cases in the United States, and 41 deaths caused by the virus. The CDC reported that COVID-19 had been reported in 46 states and Washington, D.C.
Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending package last week to combat the virus, and Pelosi said the House is poised to take up a third emergency response bill soon. Also last week, House lawmakers rebuffed a Trump administration request to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus crisis.
States Newsroom reporter Robin Bravender contributed to this report