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House coronavirus relief bill faces challenges in GOP-controlled Senate

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The Democrat-run House of Representatives approved a massive coronavirus bill hammered out by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The measure passed 363-40 and received the blessing of President Donald Trump, who took to Twitter to thank those involved, but the U.S. Senate will now take up the legislation and Fox News is reporting that approval in the upper chamber is no sure thing.

Trump tweeted: “Good teamwork between Republicans & Democrats as the House passes the big CoronaVirus Relief Bill. People really pulled together. Nice to see!”

“[W]e thought it would be important to show the American people, assure the American people, that we are willing and able to work together to get a job done for them,” Pelosi said. “So we thank our Republicans — those who will be supporting the bill. We appreciate the president joining us with his tweet.”

Pelosi came under fire for trying to sneak federal funding for abortion into the bill in a provision that would skirt the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal tax dollars to pay for abortions.

Do not underestimate the challenge the Senate could face passing this bill,” a senior Republican source told Fox News.

The course is reportedly much harder than just having the Senate take up the House bill and pass it, as Fox News’ Chad Pergram reported that “there are some technical problems in the drafting of the coronavirus legislation that requires the House to pass the bill again – perhaps with a skeleton staff – later this week.”

And this is where it could get hairy.

With “social distancing” being the thing amid the coronavirus, getting all the players in the same room to pass the bill proved to be a challenge, as much of the effort took place in phone calls between Pelosi and Mnuchin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement after the House passed the legislation that senators “will need to carefully review” the proposal, according to CNBC.

“But I believe the vast majority of Senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses,” he said.

The Senate has a procedural vote set for Monday at 5:30 p.m., that’s related to the controversial FISA surveillance program, which expired over the weekend. A deal was reached here in the House, but the Senate is likely to want to make changes to the bill.

“[I]f the Senate can wrap up FISA quickly, only then can the senators advance to the coronavirus bill. But if FISA is stalled, who knows,” Pergram noted.

And that’s if the House finishes its business — more from Fox News:

A top aide to McConnell e-mailed the Capitol Hill press corps after the House finished voting in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The staffer observed it would take the cooperation of 100 senators to start work on the coronavirus bill – regardless of FISA. But, since the House must still resolve problems with its own bill, McConnell suggested Sunday night that it would wait for the House to re-approve that measure.

A senior House Democratic aide expected the House to pass the fixed version of the bill via unanimous consent this week – that’s so long as no one objects. An objection from any lawmaker would stall the bill in the House and require all House members to return to Washington to vote.

 

The coronavirus relief bill is massive and some of the House Republicans who voted against the measure complained that they only had a few minutes to read the bill.

Even more troubling, Fox News reported that “no one truly knows the cost of the measure. It’s anywhere from tens of billions of dollars to the hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Meanwhile, local and state governments are shutting down businesses left and right in response to the virus outbreak, which will leave many small businesses teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and thousands of Americans without a livelihood.

Citing House Appropriations Committee Democrats, CNBC reported that the measure includes:

  • Requires private health plans to cover coronavirus testing at no cost, and allocates $1 billion for testing for uninsured Americans
  • Ensures employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers offer two weeks of paid sick leave. The provision expires at the end of the year
  • Requires those same kinds of employers to provide up to 3 months of paid family and medical leave for people forced to quarantine due to the virus or care for children or family members because of the outbreak
  • Offers payroll tax credits for employers providing those leave benefits
  • Puts $1 billion into emergency state grants for providing unemployment insurance benefits. It includes $500 million for staffing and logistical costs for states, with an additional $500 million reserved for states that see a 10% increase in unemployment
  • Puts $500 million into food assistance for low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, $400 million into local food banks and $250 million into a senior nutrition program
  • Suspends the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements for the duration of the crisis
Tom Tillison

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