House Democrats on Thursday approved a massive, $2.2 trillion package of coronavirus relief, lending political cover to party centrists in tough races while putting fresh pressure on Senate Republicans to move another round of emergency aid before the coming elections.
The vote arrived only after last-ditch negotiations between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats face critical 72 hours Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — 'Too late to evacuate' after wildfire debris Greene fined a third time for refusing to wear mask on House floor MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMajor Russian hacking group linked to ransomware attack on Sinclair: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report MORE on Thursday failed to yield a bipartisan agreement — and it sent a signal that the prospects for such a deal before Nov. 3 have dimmed considerably.
The bill was approved by a tally of 214 to 207, but to secure passage, Pelosi and her leadership team had to stave off a late revolt from a surprisingly large number of centrists who were furious that Pelosi had staged a vote on a bill with no chance of becoming law.
As the vote clock ticked down, Pelosi was seen on the chamber floor huddled in a long and animated conversation with three of those moderates: Reps. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerModerates split over climate plans in Democrats' spending package Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan MORE (D-N.J.), Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsPhotos of the Week: Congressional Baseball Game, ashen trees and a beach horse Biden visits Capitol with agenda in the balance House Democrats to hold second meeting amid impasse MORE (D-Minn.) and Jason CrowJason CrowThe United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (D-Colo.). Watching closely were Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks Pelosi: Democrats within striking distance of deal Powerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit MORE (D-Md.), the House majority leader.
Afterwards, Gottheimer and Crow voted in favor of the measure, while Phillips voted against it, bringing the number of Democratic defections to 18. The vote was gaveled closed shortly afterwards.
"This move toward compromise has demonstrably renewed momentum for a deal, and we are closer than we have been in months, but the only thing that will deliver the help my constituents need is a bill that will actually become law," said Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneProviding affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters Democratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Club for Growth squeezes front-line Democrats on reconciliation plan MORE (D-Iowa), a first-term lawmaker who opposed the measure.
Every Republican voted no, saying the spending levels were too high and the funding targeted certain programs unrelated to the coronavirus crisis.
The legislation has no chance of becoming law for the time being.
Republicans in the Senate and White House both oppose the measure and are backing a proposal that is $600 billion less than the Democratic legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) is dedicating the entirety of next week — the Senate’s last in Washington before the elections — to seating federal judges as the upper chamber gears up for a battle over President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE's Supreme Court nominee.
“I’d like to see another rescue package. We’ve been trying for months to get there. I wish them well,” McConnell said of the Pelosi-Mnuchin talks.
Yet Democratic supporters cheered the bill’s passage, using it to argue that Democrats are focused on getting relief to people.
“My constituents and small business owners will be so relieved to know that help that they need is one step closer to being here,” first-term Rep. Kim SchrierKimberly (Kim) Merle SchrierNew school year, new urgency to fight COVID-19 Katie Hill launches effort to protect Democratic majority in House Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases MORE (D-Wash.), a pediatrician who flipped a GOP-held seat in 2018, said on the floor before the vote.
The package features almost all of the initiatives included in the Democrats’ $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which passed the House in May, but on shorter time frames, which brought the overall cost down by more than a third.
It features almost $500 billion for state and local governments; a renewal of $600 weekly payments for unemployment benefits; another round of $1,200 checks for individuals; $75 billion for coronavirus testing; and billions of dollars more for schools, the Postal Service, food stamps, rental assistance and election security. It also contains emergency bailout funds for two industries hit hardest by the pandemic: airlines and restaurants.
"These are not radical ideas,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineMatt Stroller: Amazon's Bezos likely lied under oath before Congress Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups Lawmakers question whether Amazon misled Congress MORE (R.I.), head of the Democrats' messaging arm. “This is a basic responsibility to keep the American people healthy and safe."
Republicans have argued the measure is too costly, and panned it, in the words of Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxGreene fined a third time for refusing to wear mask on House floor House passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Pandemic leads to sharp drop in school enrollment MORE (R-N.C.), as a “$2.2 trillion socialist wish-list.”
“When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars — hard-earned money — the Democrats just can't seem to help themselves,” she said.
The breakdown in negotiations on a bipartisan deal came as United Airlines and American Airlines on Thursday began furloughing 32,000 workers, while Alaska Airlines said it would furlough 532 people. That followed an announcement by Disney that it would lay off 28,000 employees mostly from its two theme parks.
Insurance company Allstate said it would lay off about 3,800 people, while publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it was cutting 22 percent of its workforce, or about 525 positions. Goldman Sachs said it was cutting 400 jobs.
On top of that, the film and movie theater industries sent a letter to lawmakers this week begging the two parties to come together to reach a deal.
The wave of new layoffs are part of what drove Pelosi and Mnuchin back to the negotiating table. After a weeks-long impasse, the pair met in the Speaker’s office for 90 minutes on Wednesday, giving lawmakers and market watchers a glimmer of hope that a deal could get done.
But a second in-person meeting never materialized Thursday; instead the negotiators spoke by phone at least twice, taking steps toward a deal but falling short of finalizing one. Pelosi said the sides exchanged proposals, but no deal would be sealed before Friday.
The main difference between the two sides is the size of the package. Pelosi said Mnuchin’s offer of $1.6 trillion was simply too little, particularly for state and local governments struggling to stretch budgets while tax revenues have sunk.
But Pelosi also emphasized that funding is not the only issue. Democrats want stronger assurances that any money that’s approved actually goes to the areas intended by Congress. She accused the Trump administration of misusing funds Congress had previously appropriated for coronavirus testing.
“It’s the language, it’s not just the money,” Pelosi told reporters before the vote. “We've been having testing [in] a number of bills but they've never really done it.”
Republicans pushed back against the criticisms, accusing Pelosi and Democrats of political gamesmanship by crafting a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyJuan Williams: Trump is killing American democracy Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Cheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member MORE (R-Calif.) characterized the package as “the Pelosi pipedream 2.0.” And White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said it was time for Pelosi and the Democrats to bring their number down after Republicans put real money on the table.
“Nancy Pelosi is not being serious. If she becomes serious then we can have a discussion here. We've raised our offer, but when you lower your offer [to] $2.2 trillion, and you ask for direct payments to illegal immigrants and you ask for certain deportation forgivenesses in your offer, it’s not a serious offer,” McEnany said at a press briefing.
"What we are talking about here is relief for the American people, for American citizens, not direct payments to illegal immigrants. We raised our offer to $1.6 trillion. ... It is a good proposal but it’s one that she is not interested in."
Updated: 8:48 p.m.