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Sweeping coronavirus-relief bill passes House

WASHINGTON – Quibbling over legislative language in an emergency relief package for Americans impacted by the coronavirus came to an end in the House of Representatives on Monday night, putting finalization of the multibillion-dollar aid deal squarely in the Senate’s court.

The House approved corrections to the bill after 8 p.m. on Monday, finally sending the bill to the Senate two days after it first cleared the House of Representatives in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Over the weekend, the House of Representatives convened to negotiate the details of H.R. 6201, also known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is aimed at providing both economic relief to workers feeling the pinch of the pandemic’s impact and free testing for the virus known as COVID-19.

The Senate was scheduled to go on recess this week but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., canceled the hiatus to consider the aid package that House lawmakers fine-tuned into the wee hours this weekend before going on their own recess Saturday night.

But as details of the bill were being finalized Monday between Pelosi, members of House leadership and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas threw a major wrench into the works.

Gohmert announced Monday afternoon that he could not vote in favor of the measure because the House had yet to make a series of technical corrections to the bill that emerged over the weekend.

Because the House officially went into recess on Saturday, an administrative procedure known as unanimous consent is required for the chamber to pass legislation over to the Senate. Only one lawmaker must object to disrupt the bill’s passage, and if that lawmaker doesn’t budge, the House would have to return from its break for a full floor vote.

In a statement, Gohmert said he could not “in good conscience” give his consent to the bill since it was unfinished.

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“This coronavirus is doing enough damage to people without Congress compounding the problem to rush through a bill and another corrected bill just to say we did something,” he said. “We should be attempting to minimize the damage, not piling on.”

Gohmert was one of 40 Republicans in the House who voted against the initial bill last week, but he dropped his objections late Monday, allowing the package to go to the Republican-controlled House.

“Though I didn’t support the bill and still have big concerns, I’m very grateful for the efforts of the majority, the president, the secretary of the Treasury and staff members of our minority leader that have continued to negotiate and worked to try to get some of these problems figured out,” Gohmert said on the House floor Monday night. “So there is no question in my mind at this point, the what are being called technical corrections, make the bill better than it was when it got passed in the wee hours Saturday morning.”

Earlier in the day from the floor of the Senate, McConnell said his chamber was committed to “bold and bipartisan solutions” and the Senate would move swiftly if the House could transmit a “finished product.”

“Senate Republicans are convinced the House’s bill can only be the beginning of Congress’ efforts to secure our economy and support American families,” McConnell said.

One aspect of the initial bill that caused much consternation between Democrats and Republicans was a provision exempting companies with more than 500 employees from giving workers paid sick leave. During Monday’s press conference, Trump said he was looking at that “through the Senate.”

“We may very well add something on that,” Trump said.

Though the first emergency measure has yet to clear the necessary hurdles for passage, other packages are nonetheless on deck.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said from the Senate floor Monday that he expects Democrats to unveil a proposal this week that would earmark $750 billion for its pandemic response. That aid would extend to seniors, small businesses and health care workers. Other lawmakers like Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have proposed building out economic aid even further.

On Monday, Romney called on the Senate to pass the House bill but also to take things a step further by considering a provision that would give each American adult $1,000 to make ends meet as the coronavirus rocks the economy. He also called on student loan deferment for recent college graduates impacted by coronavirus.

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Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urged lawmakers who would stand in the way of the relief measures to step aside.

The House bill is just a first step, Leahy said, and a substantial one aimed at providing relief and assurance to people in crisis.

“Families should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and their own health and safety or the health and safety of their community,” Leahy said on the Senate floor. “A restaurant worker in Vermont cannot afford to stay home from work for several days or several weeks and still pay her rent or feed her family, but staying home is exactly what we’re asking waiters and waitresses and store clerks and gas station attendants, hourly workers, many other employees, to do.”

The current version of the House package would provide two weeks of paid sick leave at 100% of an individual’s usual salary, capping at roughly $500 per day. It also provides 12 weeks of paid medical and family leave at roughly two-thirds of the person’s pay, with a cap of $200 per day.

But the version of the bill that passed on Saturday did not apply to companies with over 500 employees, meaning that millions of workers across the U.S. could be left without sick pay under the legislation as it exists.

A timeline for a vote on the bill is unclear but passage could come as soon as Wednesday.

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