By MARIAM KHAN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — As the coronavirus public health crisis wears on, lawmakers scrambled back to the nation’s capital for a House vote Thursday on the $484 billion relief package that will boost the exhausted small business loan program – even as the city of Washington remains under a strict stay-at-home order until at least mid-May.
“We are asking every member to return who can return, and we hope that is a large number,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.
Congressional leaders were unable to secure an agreement in advance that would allow the chamber to pass the legislation via unanimous consent, which would let a majority of lawmakers stay home amid the highly contagious pandemic.
The nearly half-a-trillion dollar relief package will provide $310 billion for the small business loan program, $60 billion for the Small Business Administration disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for testing.
Some lawmakers have said they are not happy with the final deal lawmakers negotiated, including Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Massie was widely blasted for holding up the $2 trillion stimulus package last month by forcing lawmakers to return to Washington for an in-person vote.
Ocasio-Cortez said Congress should pass a larger bill that provides more money to American workers and small businesses.
“Rent doesn’t wait on Congress. I understand the idea of an “interim” patch bill, but if Congress doesn’t know when it will next convene, we need to vote on a bigger fix now. We need WAY more for PPP, $2000 monthly cash payments (plus $1k for each child), & cover health bills,” she said in a tweet.
“It is simply outrageous that Congress is considering voting on a small, patchwork bill after being out of session for a MONTH and recessing again without knowing when we will next convene. Thousands of people are DYING. PPP will quickly run out again. We need a bigger bill,” she said.
Despite the lawmakers’ objections, the bill is expected to pass in a bipartisan vote.
As lawmakers returned to the Capitol, Republicans argued it’s time for Congress to get back to work as normal. Both chambers are scheduled to return May 4.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to work on a plan to safely and effectively reopen Congress.
“With the House now in its fourth week of regular session being suspended, I am writing to request that we work to establish a clear, safe, and effective plan for reopening Congress,” McCarthy said in a letter addressed to Pelosi.
“In my view, conducting the business of the People’s House is the definition of “essential work”—just as many of our friends and neighbors continue working to hold up our communities on a daily basis. Unfortunately, members have yet to be given specific guidance as to how Congress will fulfill its core duties—from deliberation to oversight to legislation—over the coming days and weeks,” he wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also indicated on Tuesday – after the Senate unanimously cleared the legislative measure – that he wants the the entire Senate to return sooner rather than later.
“What we’re going to do is call the Senate back and have full membership here, and I’m sure the House will want to do the same thing before we consider yet another rescue package,” McConnell said during a press conference.
Pelosi and House Democrats backed off a plan Wednesday to vote on a resolution that would have temporarily changed the House rules to allow for proxy voting during the coronavirus crisis.
Several Republicans had pushed back against the idea, citing constitutional concerns. Republican leadership was actively whipping against the vote in a notice sent late Tuesday evening.
Democrats had long been looking at the issue of remote voting, and Pelosi threw her support behind the idea of proxy voting only recently.
Pelosi announced on a leadership call this morning that, following a conversation with McCarthy, she and McCarthy are tasking a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to review remote voting by proxy and reopening the House, according to a House Democratic leadership aide.
The House will instead consider a resolution on Thursday to create a select watchdog committee that will have oversight over the $2 trillion stimulus package Congress passed last month. The committee will be chaired by Democratic Whip Rep. James Clyburn. Republicans have said the committee is redundant and don’t intend to support it on the floor Thursday.
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