Looks like Congress finally got its act together. After much public pressure to get things going, the House passed legislation Monday night to assist Americans with the widespread effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The first order of business here in the Senate is to take up and pass the recent House bill—today.
It would provide free coronavirus testing, extensions for paid sick leave, food assistance, Medicaid reimbursement, and expanded unemployment insurance.
No more delay. pic.twitter.com/wSqa7C9aQw
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 17, 2020
The congressional response to this extreme nationwide challenge has been anything but quick and efficient, but it appears that things are now headed in the right direction.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told press that there had been “some discussion” as to whether to amend the latest House version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but that he decided instead to vote on the bill as soon as possible. When asked about potential opposition from Senate Republicans, McConnell responded, “My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway.”
McConnell’s comments came after what looked like partisan warfare in the House. A revised version bill passed in the House last Saturday with a vote of 363-40. However, on Monday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) insisted on reading corrections on the House floor, thereby delaying things further. Congressional rules mandate that if one member stands in opposition to a bill, it must be brought back to Washington for a vote before heading off the to the Senate.
We still do not have a final draft of the negotiated changes being called ’technical corrections’ and some of us believe that the newly worded laws should be finished before we pass them. #CoronaVirus
— Louie Gohmert (@replouiegohmert) March 16, 2020
Gohmert said that he “truly had wanted to vote yes but could not for a bill that created so many concerns without time to examine whether some of our language did more harm than good.” He continued to say that the House will only now “find out what this bill actually does,” and that, “Hopefully, the Senate will take the time to clean up the damage our bill caused” before sending it back to the House. Now, it appears any efforts to “clean up” have taken a back seat to getting the bill’s agenda items underway.
The original bill, as proposed by House Democrats, proposed the following:
- Economic measures for individuals: emergency unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and loan payment relief
- Economic measures for small businesses: loan payment relief and disaster-relief grants
- Emergency food and housing allowances
- Funding to keep schools safe and prepared
- Free testing for coronavirus
The updated bill included changes that would only allocate paid family and medical leave to parents whose minor children’s care facilities or schools are shut down due to the virus. The changes also cut some workers who would have been included for assistance. Companies with fewer than 50 workers will also have the right to apply for hardship relief, which would alleviate their obligation to provide sick and family leave.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]