The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted Thursday to replenish a small business loan program designed to halt layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The $484 billion relief bill is the fourth large coronavirus deal and revives the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of funds last week. The bill also has $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.
The package passed 388-5 and now goes to President Trump for his signature.
But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voted “no,” as did four Republicans — Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Jody Hice of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan voted “present.”
A separate Democratic resolution to create a new committee to oversee coronavirus stimulus funds passed 212-182 along party lines.
AOC said during debate that she was frustrated the spending bill didn’t go further, especially to stop small-business loans from going to large companies.
“It is a joke when Republicans say that they have urgency around this bill,” the self describe socialist said.
“The only folks that they have urgency around are folks like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack. Those are the people getting assistance in this bill. You are not trying to fix this bill for mom and pops, and we have to fight to fund hospitals [and] to fund testing.”
Both Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack have said they are returning the funds they received.
AOC added: “If you had urgency, you would legislate like rent was due on May 1 and make sure that we have rent and mortgage relief for our constituents.”
The small-business program forgives loans if businesses don’t lay off workers. An initial $350 billion passed last month but ran out in two weeks. The program receives an additional $310 billion in the new bill.
The House floor had relatively few lawmakers in the chamber at a given time as leaders staggered voting into specific time blocks.
During debate Republicans accused Democrats of causing a 4.4 million-person weekly bump in unemployment by rejecting Trump’s original request for a simple $250 billion injection into the loan program as funds dwindled.
Since last month, 26 million Americans — or about 16 percent of all workers — lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and government-ordered business closures.
During hours of debate, Republicans accused Democrats of dragging their feet and said Democrats were muscling through the new oversight committee with a specific intent of using it to attack Trump ahead of the November election.
“Some people unfortunately got laid off because of this delay,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
McCarthy argued there was already enough oversight. The more than $2 trillion stimulus bill that passed last month created a new inspector general, a committee of inspectors general, and a commission appointed by bipartisan House leadership, McCarthy said.
Democrats returned fire on Republicans.
“Democrats took a bad Republican proposal and made it better,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
The deal includes a $60 billion small-business loan set-aside for smaller banks and credit unions. Another $50 billion goes to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and $10 billion to the SBA’s Emergency Economic Injury Grant program.
Debate on the bill featured an increasingly vocal contingent of fiscal conservatives. During the vote last month, only Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) spoke in opposition — though five Republicans and Amash later said they would have voted “no.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) said Thursday he supported the “lifeline” for small businesses and hospitals, but that “now is the time to stop writing checks for money we don’t have that’s mortgaging the future of this great country.”
Biggs (R-Ariz.) warned about possible misuse of contact-tracing data, and urged reopening of businesses.
“There are many questions that go unanswered, not the least of these, however, is the question of how much longer the American people will acquiesce to unconstitutional and crushing government action. We need to open America now. I urge governors to free their citizens immediately,” Biggs said.
Democrats want a fifth major coronavirus bill with aid to state and local governments, but face opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who said this week they should declare bankruptcy rather than get a bailout. A possible recovery bill proposed by Trump would fund $2 trillion in infrastructure projects.
Contributed by HE Prof Colin O Jarrett
Director of News and Current Affairs