House aims to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday

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KEY POINTS
  • House Democrats plan to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus rescue plan on Friday, even amid some uneasiness from lawmakers.
  • Senate Republicans and the White House have said they oppose the bill.
  • Democrats have pushed for talks on another relief package to combat the health and economic toll from the pandemic.
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U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at her weekly press conference.
U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at her weekly press conference.
Michael Brochstein | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

House Democratic leaders plan to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus package Friday, even as Senate Republicans and the White House pledge to block what would be the largest emergency spending bill in U.S. history.

The chamber aims to vote on the legislation by Friday night, along with a rules change to allow voting by proxy during the pandemic. Democrats are expected to pass the more than 1,800-page bill, despite growing unease in the party’s right and left flanks.

The sprawling proposal addresses Democrats’ priorities to combat the economic and health crisis created by the outbreak: relief for cash-strapped state and local governments, another direct payment to Americans, hazard pay for essential workers and money to boost U.S. testing capacity. But it includes some more politically thorny elements, such as a provision to temporarily roll back the cap on state and local tax deductions — a move expected to help higher-income people most.

As Republicans question the need for more immediate fiscal relief, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describes the bill as an opening proposal in the next phase of the congressional response, which already carries a price tag approaching $3 trillion across four bills.

“So now, we’re putting our offer on the table. We’re open to negotiation,” the California Democrat told reporters on Thursday.

The Senate has no plans to touch the bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday called it “an unserious product from an unserious majority.” The Trump administration also issued a veto threat.

The efforts to approve more relief come as U.S. Covid-19 cases top 1.4 million, and American deaths from the disease surpass 85,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As the U.S. unemployment rate spiked to 14.7% in April, states started to lift lockdown restrictions and business closures designed to slow the outbreak.

In pushing for more federal relief money, Democrats have cited Wednesday comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who said “additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”

Despite President Donald Trump’s opposition to the current legislation, he would be open to another coronavirus relief bill, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday. Meanwhile, two administration officials told CNBC that the White House would likely support another round of stimulus checks to individuals.

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNBC he is “optimistic” Congress can reach a deal on another coronavirus response plan and called for talks with Republicans. Later in the day, McConnell outlined two priorities he wants to see in a bill: provisions to increase testing capacity and legal protections for doctors and businesses as the economy starts to reopen.

He called a liability shield — which Democrats have generally criticized — a “red line” in future legislation.

The GOP Senate leader has also expressed skepticism about providing more federal relief to states and municipalities. On Friday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., told CNBC’s Contessa Brewer the funds will be necessary to make sure governments do not have to lay off critical employees such as teachers and firefighters.

The congressman also defended the divisive plan to lift the state and local tax deduction cap, saying it would give further relief to struggling states.

“It would take considerable pressure off those states if the SALT deduction were repealed and we stand ready to discuss this fully with our Republican colleagues,” he added.

A handful of House Democrats also brought up the prospect of bipartisan talks as they announced their opposition this week to their party’s legislation. Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, all first-term lawmakers who flipped GOP-held seats, criticized the bill as partisan as they said they would vote against it.

“Unfortunately, many Members of Congress — including some in my own party — have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need,” Spanberger said in a written statement Friday.

House Democrats have also faced pressure from their liberal wing. Earlier this week, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin pushed party leaders to delay the vote so representatives had more time to digest the bill’s contents.

The bill cleared a procedural hurdle Friday afternoon despite 14 Democrats voting against advancing it. They included Spanberger, Cunningham, Horn, Jayapal and Pocan, along with liberals such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

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