Congress Passes Long-Awaited COVID Relief And Government Spending Bill

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Both chambers of Congress Monday night passed a $2.3 trillion spending package just hours before the midnight shutdown deadline designed to fund the federal government budget through next September paired with a rescue relief package to aid Americans reeling from a coronavirus-battered economy.

The $1.4 trillion government spending bill sticks to budget caps set during the 2019-debt ceiling fight that consists of $740.5 billion for defense spending and $664.5 billion in domestic programs. The government funding portion also includes nearly $1.4 billion for 56 miles for President Trump’s border wall construction, $5 million to create a database to track police officer misconduct, $153 million for programs to improve community relations with police, and a 3 percent pay raise for the military and a 1 percent pay raise for the civilian federal workforce.

Beyond matters related to the government budget and pandemic aid, Democrats were able to stuff into the combo package a wide slew of unrelated measures previously passed by the House that never received a vote in the Senate. The measure contains more than 3,000 pages of miscellaneous legislation, including authorizations to establish the Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino as new Smithsonian museums, creation of a national park, clean energy programs, water projects, offers “second chance” financial aid grant to incarcerated prisoners, and foreign policy changes.

Attached to the government spending measure includes the long-delayed $900 billion COVID relief package after days of hard-fought negotiations. The package mirrors provisions included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was approved in late March but had a smaller payment amount offered. It includes $600 direct payments to individuals, $300 per week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits until March 14, as well as more than $284 billion in loans for businesses through the popular Paycheck Protection Program and $15 billion grant program of “dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.”

The relief measure also extends the moratorium on evictions until January 31 while including $25 billion for rental assistance, and provide $82 billion in aid for schools and colleges, including aid to help reopen classrooms safely along with including an additional $10 billion for child care providers. 

More than $30 billion in funding will support the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, $20 billion to assist states with testing and contract tracing efforts, and adds $3 billion to the $175 billion fund for hospitals and health care providers for reimbursement of healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue resulting from the pandemic. 

The colossal combined package passed both chambers Monday evening with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The House vote was divided into two parts. The first featured funding for several key agencies including the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and passed by a vote of 327 to 85. The second combined funding for the remaining government agencies along with the COVID relief bill passed by a margin of 359 to 53.

In the Senate, the measure passed before a scheduled government shutdown at midnight by a vote of 92-6. Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Rick Scott of Florida, all Republicans who voted no and objected to adding to the enormous deficit spending.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the $600 direct payments would be doled out to individual Americans “very quickly.”

“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four, so much needed relief just in time for the holidays,” Mnuchin said on CNBC Monday afternoon. “I think this will take us through the recovery.”

Leaders in the House and Senate reached an agreement late Sunday after months of bitter inaction and stalemates. The sense of urgency finally hit a breaking point as coronavirus cases began to brutally rise amid the second wave, along with the majority of CARES Act critical aid provisions were set to expire on Saturday. 

“We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday night announcing the deal. 

The deal came after both parties relinquished some of their key demands including Democrats abandoning its demand to provide roughly $160 billion in aid to cash-strapped states and cities in return Republicans dropped their push for liability protections.

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaking on the House floor called the new Covid-19 relief bill “a good bipartisan bill,” while railing against McConnell’s previous COVID relief proposal.

“It is a good bipartisan bill.  It’s different from bills that have been proposed on the Senate side by the Republican Leader,” Pelosi said. “It does things that his bill never did and that is, it addresses the food needs of the American people. It does things that his bill never did.”

“We can accept the short term because we’ll have a new president during the length of that moratorium to extend it further when necessary,” she added. “We also have in the legislation direct payments, which were not in the Republican bill – to America’s working families.  I would like them to have been bigger, but they are significant and they will be going out soon. The President may insist on having his name on the check, but make no mistake, those checks are from the American people. The American peoples’ name should be on that check, no individual, because that is the source of the resources for those checks — tax-paying Americans.”

Despite congressional leaders finalizing the relief deal Sunday evening, lawmakers had little time to review the final text when it was posted mid-afternoon on Monday. The release of the 5,593-page mammoth bill saw delays due to technical difficulties with uploading and printing, causing the holdup.

“5,600 pages. Votes are still expected today on this legislation. No one will be able to read it all in its entirety. Special interests win. Americans lose,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) tweeted.

“Looks like this is going to be another ‘we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it’ kind of vote,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) wrote on Twitter with a video showing copies of the bill being pushed through the Capitol by a cart.

“Early this afternoon, we were finally provided the text of the combined $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and $900 billion COVID relief bill. It is almost 5,600 pages long and we’re expected to vote on it tonight. Who in their right mind thinks that this a responsible way of governing?” Scott said in a statement before voting against the bill. “I’ve repeatedly voted against enormous and wasteful spending bills. The easy route is simply to go along as Congress continues to do harm to future generations of Americans, but I will not be a part of it.”

Republicans were not the only lawmaker to express frustration. Progressive firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) criticized how lawmakers were being asked to vote on one of the largest rescue packages in American history with virtually no time to read and digest the details.

“Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on. I know it’s ‘controversial’ & I get in trouble for sharing things like this, but the people of this country deserve to know. They deserve better,” she tweeted while waiting for the release of the final text.

The final major piece of legislation of the 116th Congress also included a one-week stopgap bill to keep the government open until December 28. The continuing resolution CR will provide enough time for the bill paperwork to be drafted and enrolled before being finalized for President Trump’s signature. This process typically takes several days for large pieces of legislation. 

The White House said Trump will sign the COVID relief and government spending measure once it has been approved and reaches his desk.

Trump signed the continuing resolution shortly after midnight Tuesday.

“Just after midnight, Trump signed the bill, H.R. 1520, known as the ‘Further Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021,’ which provides fiscal year 2021 appropriations to ‘Federal agencies through Monday, December 28, 2020, for continuing projects and activities of the Federal Government,'” the White House statement reads.

The combined $2.3 trillion package is among the largest spending bills ever considered by Congress and follows the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March.

The total federal response to the pandemic now stands close to $4 trillion.

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12.23.20 2:19 PM

[…] Trump in the four-minute video railed against a slew of “wasteful spending” provisions that “has almost nothing to do with COVID” that were attached in the mammoth 5,593-page bill.  […]

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