U.S. House set to pass $500 billion in coronavirus relief as unemployment soars

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of members of the U.S. House of Representatives will gather in Washington on Thursday to pass a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill, bringing the unprecedented total of funds approved for the crisis to nearly $3 trillion.

The measure is expected to be approved with solid bipartisan support in the Democratic-led House, but opposition by some members of both parties forced legislators to return to Washington despite stay-at-home orders intended to control the spread of the virus.

The Republican-led Senate passed the legislation on Tuesday, so approval by the House will send it the White House, where President Donald Trump has promised to quickly sign it into law.

The bill – which would be the fourth passed to address the crisis – provides funds to small businesses and hospitals struggling with the economic toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 47,000 Americans and thrown a record 26 million out of work over the past five weeks, wiping out all the jobs created during the longest employment boom in U.S. history.

Congress passed the last coronavirus relief bill, worth more than $2 trillion, in March.

Some Democrats are unhappy that the latest bill omits financial help for state and local governments reeling from the impact of lost revenue. Some Republicans are unhappy that so much government spending has been approved so quickly.

Trump has said he supports more funding for states, and has promised to back it in future legislation after fellow Republicans refused to include it in the current relief package.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in a radio interview on Wednesday that states could go bankrupt, but said later he did not want states to use federal funds for anything unrelated to the coronavirus.

‘CONGRESS IS ESSENTIAL’

Echoing Trump, many Republicans also want the country – including Congress – to reopen more quickly than in the several more weeks recommended in many states.

“Congress is essential. The American public needs to see that we are working. The American public has to understand that we can do it in a safe manner so states and others can begin to open as well,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday at a news conference outside the Capitol.

House members from both parties said they were willing to risk travel to ensure that the legislation passed, some posting selfies on social media from airplanes on which passengers seemed outnumbered by crew.

“People who feel they can vote should be encouraged to vote. Those that don’t are not being pushed,” said Democratic Representative Pete Aguilar, one of a few party “whips” responsible for making sure floor votes occur without a hitch.

Aguilar spoke to Reuters on Tuesday upon landing in Washington from a “pretty empty” flight from Los Angeles.

The House will also vote on a select committee to study the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed away, however, from voting on a measure to allow members to cast proxy votes on colleagues’ behalf.

Instead of pushing through the vote-by-proxy measure, Pelosi told Democrats she and McCarthy would have a bipartisan group of House lawmakers review remote voting by proxy.

Congress has not met in regular session since last month, and is in recess until at least May 4 because of the coronavirus.

House Republicans had opposed the proxy vote plan, saying there are already measures in place to ensure Congress can act in an emergency.

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