March 14, 2020 - 12:54 AM EDT

House passes bill to help prop up economy from coronavirus

BY CRISTINA MARCOS AND JULIEGRACE BRUFKE

The House early Saturday morning passed legislation aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus by providing financial assistance to people impacted by the pandemic.

The measure, which passed 363-40, includes provisions that would ensure that workers can take paid sick or family leave, bolster unemployment insurance, and guarantee that all Americans can get free diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.

Its passage comes after two days of uncertainty while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin engaged in intense negotiations to accommodate GOP concerns, such as the cost of paid sick leave on businesses and ensuring that no taxpayer funds can be used for abortion.

House Democrats initially unveiled their legislation Wednesday night and threatened to move forward with or without the GOP, but with the growing number of coronavirus cases resulting in an increasing number of school, business, entertainment and athletic event shutdowns – as well as historic stock market losses – lawmakers were under pressure to take drastic action that actually stood a chance at becoming law.

“We could have passed our bill yesterday,” Pelosi told reporters at a late Friday night press conference in the Capitol. “But we thought it was important to assure the American people that we are willing and able to work together to get a job done for them.”

Yet confusion over whether they had struck a deal remained late into Friday evening, with GOP lawmakers throwing cold water on a deal and saying Pelosi jumped the gun on announcing an agreement.

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs then teased an interview with Mnuchin, who was meeting with President Trump as the show was airing, before the Treasury secretary announced at the end of the program that they had, in fact, come to a consensus.

Trump eventually tweeted that he “fully” supports the bill to assure anxious GOP lawmakers that he would sign it into law. Trump added that he directed the Departments of Treasury and Labor “to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will small businesses be hurt.”

Donald J. Trump

✔@realDonaldTrump

I fully support H.R. 6201: Families First CoronaVirus Response Act, which will be voted on in the House this evening. This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers. I have directed....

80.8K

8:42 PM - Mar 13, 2020

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The two sides spent hours finalizing the legislative text, which ultimately wasn’t publicly posted until just before midnight — less than an hour before the House voted on it. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voted “present” after he criticized the short timeframe to review the revised bill, tweeting that he was “reading fast.”

Justin Amash

✔@justinamash

Vote expected as early as 12:20 a.m.
Reading fast. https://twitter.com/justinamash/stat...76846016937984

Justin Amash

✔@justinamash

Final text received at 11:57 p.m.
110 pages.
Vote expected within the hour.

755

12:08 AM - Mar 14, 2020

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The Senate is expected to take up the legislation sometime next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that “senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House.” Lawmakers also anticipate considering additional measures in the coming weeks to help the economy recover from the impact of the pandemic.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he’s confident the Senate will pass the measure, noting the president’s call for both chambers to support the legislation.

“I talked to Leader [Mitch] McConnell a couple times today. The challenge here is this is not the appropriate way to always do these negotiations; they should go through committee — we're at a critical time right now," he said. "And so they don't have all the language yet, but I was keeping the senator abreast of what the arguments were and what was going into the bill.

“So I think they will look a lot based upon how we vote and they'll be studying the bill, as well," he continued. "But I do believe it will get through as the president says he wants to sign it.”

The legislation would create a national paid sick leave policy for the first time – albeit only through this year to address the coronavirus outbreak – to ensure that people won’t face pay cuts if they miss work due to illness. Employers with less than 500 workers, as well as government employers, would have to provide two weeks of paid sick leave.

Unlike nearly all wealthy industrialized nations, the U.S. does not have a permanent national paid sick leave program. Some states and localities have established their own laws requiring employers to provide sick leave, but roughly 25 percent of American workers currently don’t have the option of staying home if they are ill without losing a paycheck, leading to concerns that they could spread the coronavirus throughout their communities.

Democrats initially introduced a bill on Wednesday that would have required all employers to let employees accrue at least seven days of paid sick leave, in addition to another 14 days available immediately when there is a public health emergency like the coronavirus; however, they ultimately decided to make it a temporary program for the coronavirus crisis to accommodate Republicans who have long opposed a national paid sick leave program.

The bill would also allow for workers to have up to three months of paid family and medical leave related to being quarantined or caring for children whose schools are closed because of the coronavirus. Workers would receive a benefit from their employers amounting to at least two-thirds of their usual pay.

A provision pushed by the GOP would provide for refundable tax credits as a way to help defray the costs for businesses adapting to the paid leave requirements.

The package is the latest installment of actions by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic; Trump last week signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package into law to boost agencies’ efforts to combat the virus.

McCarthy first announced during a conference call Thursday morning that he did not support the measure, and called for lawmakers to postpone their recess to allow for negotiations to continue.

Republicans on Friday morning were reportedly still reluctant to back the legislation following changes made during the Pelosi-Mnuchin negotiations. One GOP lawmaker told The Hill early Friday that the bill had “not been changed sufficiently to protect small businesses from a devastating paid leave mandate.”

The president – who was pushing for language on a payroll tax cut to be added to the bill – further signaled that he was not supportive of the bill during a press conference on Friday afternoon, stating that “we just don’t think they are giving enough.”

But Pelosi and Mnuchin, after speaking more than a dozen times on Friday, were ultimately able to hash out a deal that the White House was willing to support.

Pelosi indicated that the House will work on additional legislation to address the pandemic in coming weeks.

“As the Senate works to pass this bill, the House will begin work on a third emergency response package to protect the health, economic security and well-being of the American people,” she said in a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing the deal early Friday evening.

“We will do so in continued consultation with scientists, researchers, health care professionals, public health officials and community leaders, so that we can craft the most effective, evidence-based response," she added.

The bill would also bolster unemployment insurance by providing states with at least $1 billion in grants to deal with a rise in joblessness resulting from the impact of the coronavirus.

Additionally, it would allow for emergency food assistance for households with children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals at school in the event of school closures lasting more than five consecutive days. Work and work training requirements for food assistance would also be suspended.

Passage of the bill came hours after Trump held a press conference at the White House to formally declare a national emergency, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to access billions of dollars and mobilize personnel to help state and local agencies handle the coronavirus outbreak.

Following the vote, House members departed Washington and won’t be back for at least a week for a previously-scheduled recess; however, that recess could be extended if the coronavirus crisis worsens in the coming days.

Several lawmakers have been self-quarantiningdue to exposure to people diagnosed with the coronavirus, while at least one Senate staffer has become ill with the virus.

More than 2,110 Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus with at least 48 deaths as of Friday evening, while there are more than 145,000 confirmed cases and 5,400 deaths worldwide.

Updated: 1:46 a.m.

https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4...om-coronavirus