House Democrats Narrowly Pass Another Massive Stimulus Worth $3 Trillion

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday narrowly passed legislation to appropriate another $3 trillion to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But approved along mostly party lines, the HEROES Act is largely a messaging bill from Democrats that will not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate in its current form. It remains to be seen when—or if—future relief will come for the more than 36 million Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two months.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have advocated for a "pause" in dolling out more money amid skyrocketing deficits. This despite some in the Trump administration, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, warning more action may be needed to avoid lasting economic harm to a once-booming economy that is now in Depression-era status. It "could be costly," Powell said this week, "but worth it if it helps avoid long-term damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery."

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Fox News Thursday labeled the HEROES Act a "parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously." On the House floor Friday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) called it a "socialist wish list." Lawmakers have already approved roughly $3 trillion in federal assistance since the onset of the pandemic, not including the cost of Friday's legislation.

The 1,800-page bill narrowly passed 208-199, with 14 Democrats and one Republican crossing party lines.

House passes massive $3 trillion stimulus
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi exits the House Chamber of the US Capitol amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 15 in Washington, DC. Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty

The package includes an exhaustive list of items, most prominently a second round of $1,200 checks for individuals and up to $6,000 for families; $1 trillion in state and local aid; an expansion of the $600 federal unemployment payments; hazard pay for essential workers worth $200 billion; and $175 billion in rent, mortgage and utility relief.

"Let's take a 'pause'? Do you think this virus is taking a pause? Do you think that the rent takes a pause? Do you think that putting food on the table, or the hunger that comes if you can't, takes a pause?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the floor. "The hardship of losing a job doesn't take a pause or, tragically, losing a loved one doesn't take a pause... We don't end this by pausing in the fight."

The package also includes $75 billion to increase testing, contact tracing and treatment; $10 billion of emergency grants for small businesses; a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act; a 15 percent boost to food stamps; and additional resources for vote-by-mail for the November elections and the U.S. Postal Service.

But within the $3 trillion piece of legislation were items that Republicans—and even some Democrats—considered unrelated to the pandemic, such as measures for the marijuana industry, aid for lobbyists and the repeal of a cap on deductions for state and local taxes (known as SALT) that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy.

"Inside [Pelosi's] HEROES Act, which she continues to twist arms to try to get as many Democrats as she can to vote for, the focus is on bills they dreamed of before COVID even existed," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters. "It is her own dream with a liberal view of her party with no input from either side knowing that it's going nowhere."

Indeed, Democratic House leadership did not consult with Republicans or the White House. And 14 Democrats, most of whom were moderates in swing districts, chose to buck the party and cross the aisle to vote against the bill.

But one Republican defected from his party: Peter King of New York.

Peter King long Republican to back stimulus
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) touches elbows with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) (R) after the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Rayburn Room of U.S. Capitol March 12 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

"I'm not breaking from the party. I'm just doing what I think is essential for my district, the state and the country," the retiring lawmaker told Newsweek, citing the state and local aid as the most crucial component. "I'm opposed to 90 percent of extraneous matters in there. But this is the only vehicle to get state and local funding to the Senate. I don't trust McConnell."

McConnell drew scathing criticism from King last month when the Kentucky Republican suggested states may need to go bankrupt rather than the federal government providing more aid.

McCarthy pushed back on King's support for the legislation, which he's labeled a "wish list."

"This will not save New York," McCarthy said. "It will not help the country itself."