House passes $3T measure that Amodei dubs ‘bill from Hell’

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (center) heads to the House Chamber to vote Friday on a $3 trillion economic package to aid people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Friday cleared a massive $3 trillion relief bill aimed at blunting the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sweeping legislation, which passed largely along partisan lines by a vote of 208-199, carries a price tag that’s roughly equal to the four previous coronavirus response bills already signed into law.

Nevada’s delegation split along party lines. Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford, Susie Lee and Dina Titus voted for the bill, Republican Mark Amodei voted against it.

The measure contains nearly $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. It would also offer direct payments of $1,200 to Americans, extend federal unemployment benefits, increase funding for nutrition assistance programs and ensure that every American can vote by mail in the November election.

But the measure appears to be just a starting point for negotiations in the next round of congressional relief. The White House has issued a veto threat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared the bill “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber of Congress. And 14 House Democrats voted against the bill, including some moderates facing tough reelection bids this fall. Rep. Pete King of New York was the lone Republican who voted for it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the legislation an “urgently-needed relief package to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people from the devastation of the coronavirus crisis.” Many of her GOP colleagues, however, decried the bill as a roundup of Democratic priorities that had no chance of winning the votes of Senate Republicans.

According to a House Appropriations Committee report, Nevada state government would get $2.64 billion under the bill, and city and county governments would see $1.76 billion, Horsford said in a statement after the vote.

“Nevada’s health care, first responders, teachers, transit, food, sanitation and other essential workers risk their lives to save lives every day, and they are now at risk for losing their jobs as our local governments suffer revenue loss in this crisis,” Horsford said.

Lee, whose third congressional district in Southern Nevada was narrowly won by Donald Trump in 2016 and promises to be the most high-profile and competitive race in the state this year, described the bill as “imperfect.”

But “I could not vote to derail this critical aid that will support direct services in our communities,” Lee said in a statement.

Many Republicans in the House, meanwhile, accused their colleagues across the aisle of wasting valuable time.

In an email newsletter prior to the vote, Amodei called the measure “an appropriations bill from Hell.” He slammed the provision to extend unemployment, saying it would “ensure unemployment continues, by paying individuals more to stay out of work, forcing businesses to compete with unemployment benefits.”

Amodei also blasted the bill’s provision to provide direct stimulus payments to “illegal immigrants.” The CARES Act enacted in March excluded Nevadans without legal status, as well as “mixed-status families”, meaning that if a spouse with a valid Social Security number files taxes with a taxpaying partner who uses ITIN — an individual taxpayer identification number — the couple will not qualify for any relief payments.

Proxy voting

U.S. House lawmakers on Friday also approved a landmark rules change to allow members to work from afar during the pandemic.

The chamber approved a resolution that authorizes committees to work remotely during the pandemic and would allow voting by proxy. Under the resolution, one member could serve as a designated proxy for up to 10 members. It’s the first time in congressional history that remote floor voting will be allowed.

The New York Times noted that the COVID-19 outbreak prompted Congress to alter the voting-in-person requirements that persisted even through Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak of 1793, the Spanish influenza of 1918, and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The largely party line vote on the resolution was 217-189. Three Democrats voted against it: Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Rick Larsen of Washington and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona.

The resolution also directs a study into whether and how lawmakers can eventually vote remotely via secure technology.

Republican lawmakers berated that resolution, declaring that it sends the wrong signal to the country when essential employees are going to work in person every day, but members of Congress can opt to stay at home. They’ve also questioned whether remote voting is constitutional.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.