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Early Saturday morning, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a Covid-19 relief bill that will pay for free coronavirus testing, paid leave for employees in case of illness, and subsidies for small businesses to pay for it.
The vote was 363-40. The bill will now move on to the Senate where passage is expected early next week. The president gave his blessing for the compromise.
There were several sticking points in the bill that Trump and the Republicans balked at agreeing to. One of them had to do with a potential loophole for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortion. Republicans wanted specific language clarifying that the Hyde Amendment applied to spending on Medicare and Medicaid. Last night, Democrats finally relented and included it.
But negotiations were no easy matter.
Republicans also balked at Democrats’ initial paid leave provision, which would have required employers to provide the benefit not only for the coronavirus, but for all future public health emergencies. The final compromise bill removed the permanent language, limiting the benefit to the current outbreak.
In addition, Republicans were concerned about the effects of the paid-leave expansion on small businesses. The final bill provides subsidies to businesses with 500 employees or fewer, [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin said.
“Obviously, we expect the bigger corporations to pick up these costs,” he told Fox.
There’s no official price tag for the bill and not enough time for the Congressional Budget Office to “score” the legislation. But estimates have been as high as $100 billion.
The bill would give taxpayers:
- Free coronavirus testing for all who need it, including those without insurance
- Up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave
- Stronger unemployment insurance for furloughed workers
- Buttressing SNAP and other food programs for school children and seniors
- More money for Medicaid, the joint federal and state insurance program for low-income Americans
Pelosi and Mnuchin talked numerous times over the last few days trying to hammer out a deal.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Friday.
The deal was struck after numerous conversations over the last two days between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They spoke 20 times Friday.
Trump green-lighted the measure and later tweeted his approval of the deal.
The promise of passage earlier in the day, along with Trump’s strong performance at his press conference announcing a national emergency, cheered investors who drove the stock market to its biggest one-day gain in history.
But the reality is, Covid-19 is now almost certainly in all 50 states. How many Americans have been exposed and how many will get sick is still the great unknown. With yesterday’s actions by the House and the administration, the nation has a fighting chance to avoid the worst of the crisis and ride out the epidemic in a relatively short period of time.