Washington – The U.S. House late Friday approved a massive, $3 trillion coronavirus spending package that would, among other things, provide a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers – including those at Electric Boat shipyards– and extend the federal $600-per-week unemployment benefits for six more months.
The HEROES Act, was approved on a 208-199 vote, with the unanimous support of Connecticut’s House members, all Democrats.
“The HEROES Act is a critical $3 trillion-dollar rescue for our front line workers, cities and states, our small businesses, and it creates the kind of modern day safety net I have been fighting for with so many brave allies in and outside the U.S. Congress,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro during floor debate on the legislation.
But the 1,800-page bill attracted only one House GOP vote — that of retiring Rep. Peter King of New York, and is not likely to be considered in the Republican-led Senate.
Like many of his Republican colleagues, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California called the rescue package a “Democratic political messaging bill” that had “no chance of passing the Senate.” And the White House has threatened a veto of the bill as currently written.
Still, some of its provisions are likely to survive upcoming negotiations expected among the White House, Senate Republicans and House Democrats to produce a bill that would pass both chambers and secure President Donald Trump’s signature.
The White House has signaled it may support providing more money to state and local governments, although Trump may insist on less than the $875 billion the House-approved HEROES Act would provide.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was among the governors — both Democratic and Republican — who lobbied for more federal aid.
“Governors of both parties spoke with a unified voice when we asked Congress to deliver urgently needed relief to state and local governments and the citizens we serve,” Lamont said in a statement. “The HEROES Act answers the call.
Some congressional Republicans say they are open to another round of stimulus checks, but that support may be limited to payments that are less generous than what the HEROES Act would provide.
The bill approved in the U.S. House Friday would provide a $1,200 stimulus payment to most American adults and $1,200 for each child, but no more than $6,000 to each family.
The HEROES Act would also provide stimulus payments to immigrants, an idea that was heatedly attacked by the GOP and is not likely to become law.
The first round of stimulus checks were given only to Americans with valid Social Security numbers, a requirement aimed at shutting out undocumented immigrants from receiving the cash. Democrat argued the requirement hurt “mixed families,” including 1.2 million American citizens married to undocumented immigrants.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked Democrats for the idea.
“We forgot to have the Treasury Department send money to people here illegally,” McConnell said. “My goodness, what an oversight. Thank goodness Democrats are on the case.”
McConnell, and other Republicans, said Congress should wait to determine the full impact of previous stimulus bills, which have cost trillions of dollars and ballooned the deficit.
But Democrats say there’s an urgent need for more federal help.
“I voted for The Heroes Act today because it is a bill for the people at a time when the people need it most,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District. “Further assistance cannot wait – Congress must act now.”
Another possible poison pill for the GOP in the HEROES Act is a proposed two-year suspension of the $10,000 cap on the deductibility of state and local income taxes (SALT) on federal tax forms. That cap has hurt residents in high-income, high-tax “blue” states like Connecticut.
McConnell called the effort to suspend the SALT cap “a tax code giveaway to high earners in blue states.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, hailed the SALT cap suspension and another measure that would make payments to volunteer first responders tax free.
“The HEROES Act includes two provisions that I fought for after hearing from Connecticut residents,” he said. “The bill repeals the cap on state and local tax deductions for two years, putting money back into the pockets of Connecticut residents during these difficult times.” He said it would help volunteer first responders by making sure they are not taxed “on the small tokens of gratitude they receive from their communities.”
Another effort supported by members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation is also in the HEROES Act. It would increase food stamp benefits by 15 percent. Republicans oppose an expansion of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the official name for food stamps, but a key GOP constituency, the nation’s farmers, back the proposed increase.
The bill also includes a provision promoted by DeLauro that would expand paid sick days and family and medical leave benefits previous stimulus legislation extended to some workers. That legislation exempted workers in large companies, including healthcare workers, grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, retail and big box workers, and warehouse workers from the new sick and personal leave benefits.
“Paid sick days and paid family and medical leave is now available to all workers,” DeLauro said.
The bill also contains $200 billion for “essential” workers, including medical staff and first responders – and workers at defense plants with key Pentagon contracts, like Electric Boat. Some of that funding may make it in a negotiated bill. Some of the $75 billion proposed to help states for coronavirus testing, tracing and isolation efforts, may also survive negotiations.
The GOP may also relent on another provision that would forgive up to $10,000 of some, but not all, student loans. The HEROES Act would offer that loan forgiveness to borrowers who are at least 90 days past due; or whose payments are suspended under forbearance options established in a previous stimulus bill, including economic hardship, unemployment, or cancer.
Before the U.S. House approved the HEROES Act, it approved a radical change to its rules, allowing its members to cast committee and floor votes from afar. It was an historic, if temporary, measure.
Like the HEROES Act, the new rule, which temporarily authorizes remote committee work and proxy voting on the House floor, was adopted along party lines. 217-189.
“Congress can’t cling to the past in an emergency like COVID-19,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
He said parliamentary democracies around the world, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and France, have adapted technology and modified proceedings “to accommodate social distancing and the need to legislate.”
“The bill we voted on today doesn’t fundamentally change the way Congress works at all, but it does allow us to use remote technology, like our democratic allies, to get important work done for the American people on a temporary, emergency basis,” Courtney said.