House gives final passage to $484 billion coronavirus relief bill

Bill would provide more money for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing

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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — The House passed a nearly $500 billion interim coronavirus bill Thursday that includes additional money for the small-business loan program, as well as for hospitals and testing, making way for the legislation to become law by the end of the week.

The bill passed by a 388-5-1 bipartisan vote. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who argued that the package needed to include funding for states and cities, was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, which does not include the additional funding for states and local governments that Democrats had sought.

Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Jody Hice of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky also voted against the bill. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., voted present.

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The bill includes more than $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, created by the CARES Act, which was passed late last month. The program, which quickly ran out of money because of heavy demand, provides forgivable loans to small businesses that keep their employees on the payroll.

About $60 billion of the additional PPP funding would be set aside for businesses that do not have established banking relationships, such as rural and minority-owned companies. Expanding access to the aid was a priority for Democrats who worried that some businesses were being shut out of the fund.

The bill would also provide $60 billion in loans and grants for the Small Business Administration's disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill Friday.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said on the House floor before the vote that she was dedicating the legislation to her sister who is dying from the virus.

"I'm going to take a moment to dedicate this legislation to my dear sister who is dying in a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, right now, infected by the coronavirus," Waters said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged Waters' revelation at a ceremony after the bill was passed.

"It is my honor to sign it. but I do so very sadly and prayerfully. Maxine learned today that her sister has been diagnosed with the virus," she said. "It could happen to anybody at any time on the floor."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also shared Thursday that her brother had died earlier in the week from the coronavirus.

House members arrived at the Capitol building Thursday wearing masks and were instructed to remain 6 feet apart. Members were also broken up into eight alphabetical groups based on their last names for voting to limit the number of people on the floor during the vote.

The Senate reached a standoff earlier in the month over a Republican proposal that would have provided just $250 billion to replenish the depleted small-business funds. Democrats pushed to expand the scope of the bill to include more coronavirus emergency relief funds.

Although the bill ballooned to nearly half a trillion dollars, both parties have been referring to it as "interim" legislation meant to bridge the gap between the $2 trillion CARES Act and the next expansive round of coronavirus legislation.

"There will be a big, broad, bold COVID 4. For anyone who thinks this is the last train out of the station, that is not close to the case," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference with Pelosi on Tuesday after the Senate passed the interim bill.

Pelosi and Schumer said their proposal for the next round of legislation would include election reform, hazard pay for front-line workers, money for state and local governments, money for the Postal Service and more.

But Republicans are already raising issues with the Democrats' priorities for the next bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" this week that he was "not ready to just send a blank check down to states and local governments to spend any way they choose to," stressing that more funding "has to be coronavirus-related."

Trump expressed a similar sentiment at the White House coronavirus briefing, saying some states had budget problems long before the pandemic.

"I'm open to ideas that are going to be great to the people of this country. And if we can help states, we're always going to help states. Now, there's different ways of helping states. Some ways are better than others. So we're looking," Trump said. "It is interesting that the states that are in trouble do happen to be blue. It is interesting. You know, if you look around, I mean the states that seem to have the problem happen to be Democrat."

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McConnell also suggested that the Senate would have to come back to Washington to pass the next measure, potentially creating a logistical hurdle for lawmakers who have been in their districts since the Senate adjourned at the end of March.

"We will not try to pass another rescue package by consent," McConnell told reporters Wednesday. The Senate has passed previous coronavirus legislation by voice vote or unanimous consent, meaning lawmakers were not on record voting for or against the bills.

"My view is we ought to bring everybody back, have full participation to begin to think about the implications to the country's future for this level of national debt."

House members scrambled to return to Washington this week to vote on the interim bill after they could not agree to vote by unanimous consent, which would not have required all of them to return.

Democrats have been more apprehensive about requiring lawmakers to fly back to Washington to work on the next bill in close quarters at the Capitol.

"If we were to come back prematurely and that were to set a bad example for people, that's a bad thing," Schumer said Tuesday. "I would like to be governed by the medical experts."

Multiple senators were forced to self-isolate in March after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tested positive for COVID-19.