Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday passed a $2 trillion relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the third major piece of legislation advanced by Congress in response to the outbreak.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the House March 27, with the support of a majority of members. It was then presented to President Donald Trump, who signed the bill on Friday afternoon.
After the bill passed the House by voice vote, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) requested a recorded vote, which received insufficient support. He then objected, arguing that a quorum of members were not present to do business. After a count was made, a quorum was determined to be present in the chamber, and the bill passed.
House leadership had initially considered the use of unanimous consent, or passing the bill with no voiced opposition.
The bill authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.
Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.
The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.
Among its health provisions, the bill allows for health savings accounts (HSA) to pay for over-the-counter medications, contains a “Good Samaritan” provision so that volunteer health workers do not face liability, and provides $100 billion for hospitals and health care providers.
The Senate passed the bill late on Wednesday night by a vote of 96-0.
In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Massie said that “[t]he Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” and that if “millions” of Americans still had to go to work during a pandemic, “[i]s it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”
Also criticizing the bill was Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who called it a “corporate bailout” with few strings attached and that Congress was not voting on it with “eyes wide open.”
Massie also said the bill was full of “pork” and allowed the Federal Reserve too much authority to print money and distribute it, and that “[t]his stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing.”
The bill provides $500 billion for a corporate liquidity program to be administered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, which critics have called a corporate “slush fund.”