Democrats pushed through a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Friday — but Somerset’s Republican Congressman Hal Rogers called the measure a “waste of time.”
The 208-199 vote, with all but one Republican opposed, advances what boils down to a campaign-season display of Democratic economic and health-care priorities. It has no chance of becoming law as written, but will likely spark difficult negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans. Any product would probably be the last major COVID-19 response bill before November’s presidential and congressional elections.
The enormous Democratic measure would cost more than the prior four coronavirus bills combined. It would deliver almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals and help for the unemployed, renters and homeowners, college debt holders and the struggling Postal Service.
“This is a shameful way to do business and a waste of time,” Rogers said after the vote. “The Democrats are piggybacking their socialist agenda on this deadly pandemic with a price tag of $3 trillion for taxpayers. Instead of working together, House Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and her team crafted this left-wing wish list behind closed doors.”
“Not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way, it is irresponsible because it’s only going to cost more,” Pelosi, D-Calif., countered. “More in terms of lives, livelihood, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.”
Rogers and other House Republicans mocked the bill as a bloated Democratic wish-list that was dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate and, for good measure, faced a White House veto threat. Party leaders say they want to assess how $3 trillion approved earlier is working and see if some states’ partial business reopenings would spark an economic revival that would ease the need for more safety net programs.
Republicans are also sorting through internal divisions and awaiting stronger signals from President Donald Trump about what he will support.
“Phase Four is going to happen,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, using Washington insider-speak for the measure. “But it’s going to happen in a much better way for the American people.”
Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are insisting the next measure should protect reopening businesses from liability lawsuits. The president is also demanding a cut to payroll taxes, but GOP leaders are not yet onboard.
To enhance the bill’s political impact, Democrats named their measure “The Heroes Act” for the payments it would provide front-line emergency workers. With more than 86,000 Americans dead, 1.4 million confirmed infections and 36 million filing unemployment claims in an frozen economy, Democrats saw GOP opposition as an easy campaign-season target.
Republicans saw the bill as a Democratic political blunder. They said overly generous unemployment benefits discouraged people from returning to work, and attacked language helping immigrants in the U.S. illegally get federal benefits. They also singled out provisions helping states set up voting by mail and easing the marijuana industry’s access to banks.
“The bill includes some items worthy of consideration, but unfortunately those are buried under stimulus checks for illegal immigrants, federal funding for abortions, weakening our election laws, bailing out the marijuana industry and a mass release of certain federal prisoners,” Rogers said. “This $3 trillion boondoggle will never become law. Our time would be better spent focusing on what more needs to be done to revive our economy and how we can provide more protections for the American people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.