WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved nearly $500 billion in additional COVID-19 relief, the bulk of which is aimed at buoying small businesses after loan funding dried up.
The House cleared the $484 billion funding bill along bipartisan lines as some lawmakers returned to Washington for the first time since March. The Senate passed the measure earlier this week by unanimous consent — a procedure used for non-controversial bills — and President Donald Trump has said he’d sign it.
Lawmakers put other priorities on hold — including additional funding for state and local governments to respond to the crisis — in order to reach bipartisan agreement on this interim bill. It marks the fourth massive spending package passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and lawmakers are already declaring their wishlists for the next round of negotiations.
The package passed this week includes $310 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program. Congress set up the loan program to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, but the initial $350 billion was quickly depleted and ailing businesses around the country were turned away by lenders.
The newly approved $310 billion sets aside $60 billion specifically for smaller banks and lenders. Large companies were among those who got funding from the first tranche of cash, sparking outrage among many who wanted to ensure that smaller businesses got help.
The interim relief legislation approved on Thursday also includes $75 billion for hospitals and health care providers. It contains $25 billion for COVID-19 testing, including $11 billion for testing resources for states, localities, territories and tribes.
Many lawmakers are already outlining priorities for the next round of relief funding.
Nevada Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford said in a floor speech that the latest package shortchanges state, local and tribal government.
Trump tweeted this week that he would also push for state and local funding in the next round of coronavirus legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he doesn’t expect a debate about state and local government funding to occur until the full Senate is back in session, which isn’t planned until May.
New oversight panel
House lawmakers on Thursday also voted to approve a new committee to oversee the massive federal outlays occurring in response to the pandemic, even as Republicans slammed the effort.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced plans earlier this month to set up a bipartisan Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, to be chaired by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Pelosi said on the House Floor Thursday that the panel “will exercise our oversight to ensure that the historic investment of taxpayers’ dollars, which are enormous, are being used wisely and efficiently and that nobody is ripping us off.”
Republicans called the new panel unnecessary because Congress has oversight committees already in place and another $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill included additional oversight provisions. That bill installed a new inspector general and set up a new committee to oversee the stimulus funds.
But Trump issued a statement after signing the bill saying he had the power to decide what information the inspector general could share with Congress, and he challenged the constitutionality of language requiring consultation with Congress about staffing the new oversight committee, The New York Times reported.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Thursday accused Democrats of using a new committee to advance their political gains and to look out for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and to go after Trump. “This is just a continuation of the attack that the Democrats have had on the president for the past four years,” he said.