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House overwhelmingly OKs $484B virus stimulus measure

In this image from video, Rep. Carolyn Maloney

In this image from video, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Thursday. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly approved a $484 billion interim coronavirus spending package to fund a small business program, health care providers, and virus testing and contact tracing in an extraordinary session Thursday.

Meeting in person in the House chamber amid a pandemic that has shut down all but essential activities, lawmakers practiced social distancing and many wore protective masks as they voted 388 to 5 in shifts to pass the fourth relief measure to address the pandemic.

President Donald Trump said he would sign the bill as soon as the House passed and delivered it to the White House, an act that will bring total coronavirus epidemic federal spending to $2.5 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The interim bill includes $321 billion to replenish funds for the small business paycheck protection program, including $60 billion targeted to “unbanked” firms run by rural, minority and women owners, $75 billion more for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.

The vote came after the announcement that another 4.4 million people applied for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to more than 26 million who have lost their jobs during the economic shutdown in the effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

And it came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 828,441 cases of, and 46,379 deaths from, COVID-19 in the United States as of Wednesday.

“We come to the floor with such heartache, with such sorrow, about those who have lost their lives and their loved ones, those who are suffering from the virus assault now, and for those who are in doubt about their economic situation,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “That’s what this is about.”

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But the debate preceding the bipartisan voted skewed toward partisan finger-pointing.

Republicans and Democrats already began sparring over the next major spending bill, especially Democrats’ demand for as much as $500 billion for state and local governments, which were left out of the interim bill at Republicans’ insistence.

And they blamed each other for the millions of workers who lost their jobs while the two sides fought over the interim bill and the SBA ran out of funds to makes loans to small businesses.

“How many of those 4.4 million would not have gotten the pink slip last week had we listened more than two weeks ago,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Democrats agreed to the bid to simply add $250 billion to the small business program.

Pelosi said Republicans delayed the bill by not negotiating until last week, criticizing them for saying “we held up this bill when they are doing today, with great pride, exactly what the Senate Democrats asked them to do on April 9.”

On that day, Senate Republicans moved to add $250 billion for the paycheck protection program and Democrats countered with an additional $100 billion for health care providers and $150 billion for state and local governments. Each side blocked the other’s proposal.

Pelosi spoke with her mask pulled down, setting an example that most other lawmakers followed, though House staff and some members, including Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) continued to wear theirs while talking.

Hundreds of House members left their home districts to go to Washington because, unlike in the Senate, there was an objection to passing the bill with unanimous consent.

All five of the House members who represent Long Island made the trip and voted for the interim funding measure. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) was the only Democrat to vote no.

The House opened its first session since the end of March with a debate on Pelosi’s proposal for a select committee to oversee the spending of the trillions of dollars on the pandemic, based on the Senate panel created for World War II spending.

Republicans said they opposed it as redundant of other oversight committees and federal watchdogs in the bill and called it another Democratic attempt to attack Trump. But Democrats insisted Congress needs to conduct specific oversight.

The House approved the measure 212-182 in a party-line vote.

Pelosi withdrew a vote on a measure to allow members to cast proxy votes for absent colleagues because of the pandemic. She said a bipartisan group will review the issue.

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