With just minutes left in the day Wednesday, the Senate kept its pledge to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, in a unanimous vote.
The 880-page bill is full of funding priorities, including the authorization of a cash infusion to Americans of up to $1,200 for adults and $500 for children.
The final bill also included $367 billion in loans to small businesses, $500 billion in assistance to large businesses, states and cities, as well as an expansion to unemployment benefits that gives an extra $600 per month to those already receiving their states’ unemployment benefits.
The unanimity in the final vote came after a day of uncertainty, as Republican Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) threatened to hold up the bill because they felt the unemployment provisions in the bill were too generous and would disincentivize people to work.
“Let’s just make sure we make people whole,” Graham told reporters. “Let’s not increase their salary, because you can’t afford to do that.”
In response, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) threatened to hold up the bill over what he called the “corporate welfare” provisions in the bill.
Ultimately, these controversies were resolved before the final vote. Under normal circumstances, such a large bipartisan majority in the Senate would allay concerns from House members.
But much like the situation Wednesday, the bill’s path forward in the House remains somewhat unclear, as lawmakers of different stripes continue to express concerns about the massive package McConnell termed “emergency relief” rather than “stimulus.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) stayed active on Twitter for much of Wednesday, criticizing the Senate for its potentially extending its two-week Easter recess to three weeks. She also criticized Senate Republicans for offering a massive amount of corporate assistance in the same bill that is intended to offer relief to everyday Americans.
Ocasio-Cortez’s colleagues from the New York delegation are cautious about the bill. This comes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the bill was insufficient in meeting the needs of his state, which leads the nation in coronavirus cases with upwards of 30,000 cases.
“It would really be terrible for the state of New York,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “That is a drop in the bucket as to need.”
Some House conservatives cited concerns over the bill’s vast price tag.
Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) tweeted his objection to funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, Howard University and $350 million for the State Department’s Migration and Refugee Assistance programs.
Senate Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has informed lawmakers that the House will convene Friday to consider the bill.
"In order to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of COVID-19 through Members' travel,” Hoyer emailed lawmakers, “passage will be done by voice vote. Members who want to come to the House Floor to debate this bill will be able to do so."
The House originally hoped to pass the legislative package by unanimous consent but House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy cautioned that it would not be possible.
"I don't believe we should pass a $2 trillion dollar package by unanimous consent,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “But I also think it would be able to pass it by a voice vote."
That is what both Democrats and Republicans are counting on, especially after Senators voted unanimously for the bill.
With unemployment claims at the highest level in recorded history: 3.28 million, there is increased pressure on the House to pass this quickly and get it to the president’s desk.
In the current package, unemployment benefits would be increased for anyone experiencing unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers anticipate another funding bill will be needed in the future with Speaker Pelosi pledging further cash payments to Americans in a so-called “phase four” relief package.