The House of Representatives on Friday evening passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, the most expensive legislation approved by that body in history, that Democrats hailed as the unprecedented response needed to deal with the pandemic and its economic fallout.
The record-breaking bill narrowly passed by a 208-199 vote. Fourteen Democrats defied their party and voted "no," while one Republican, Rep. Pete King of New York, broke with the GOP and voted “yes.”
“I’m thrilled," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the bill's passage. "I'm so proud of my members. They just did something so monumental for the American people -- for their health, for their lives, for their livelihood, and for our democracy. We couldn’t be more thrilled."
Unlike the first four coronavirus bills, which were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, this 1,815-page package was drafted by Democrats alone and earned a veto threat from the White House and condemnation from the GOP as a "liberal wish list" that's dead on arrival in the Senate.
Even Pelosi couldn't get all her members on board. The most liberal members of the party panned the legislation as not going big enough, while moderate members in swing districts said they couldn't support a bill that was too partisan and costly.
"At a time when our country is in real trouble, we should not be spending precious time on one-sided solutions that aren’t going anywhere," said Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.
The 14 Democrats voting "no" were Cunningham and Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, Jared Golden of Maine, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Ben McAdams of Utah, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.
But most Democrats, some making emotional pleas on the House floor, said Americans need this lifeline -- now. They spoke of the more than 85,000 deaths from COVID-19, winding lines at food banks in their districts, more than 36 million filing for unemployment, and families struggling to make rent as evidence of the need for a historic response.
"Many say this bill is dead on arrival," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told members on the House floor. "If we do not move this bill, the deaths will be in our districts."
Dubbed the HEROES Act, the legislation includes $915 billion in state and local aid that could prevent layoffs of public workers, like first responders and teachers; a new $200 billion "heroes" fund for hazard pay for essential workers; $100 billion for K-12 and higher education and $75 billion for coronavirus testing.
The legislation aims to get more money into the pockets of Americans hard-hit by widespread business closures. Eligible individuals would receive $1,200 checks for each person in their household, up to $6,000.
The bill extends add-on unemployment benefits of $600 in addition to state benefits through January 2021, creates a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act exchanges for the uninsured and provides $175 billion for families to pay their mortgages and rent. The legislation includes student loan forgiveness, an employee retention tax credit and increases maximum SNAP benefits by 15 percent.
But tucked into the legislation are provisions that rankled the Republicans, including expanding $1,200 checks to certain undocumented immigrants, restoring the full State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT) that helps individuals in high-taxed blue states, a $25 billion rescue for the U.S. Postal Service, allowing legal marijuana businesses to access banking services and early voting and vote-by-mail provisions.
"So much of what's in this bill simply has nothing at all to do with the current crisis," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "It's more like a liberal Christmas ... wish list. It would make more sense ... to just send it straight to Santa Claus than to send it to the United States Senate. It would have a better chance of becoming law that way."
Acknowledging this bill won't get passed in the GOP-led Senate, Democrats framed the HEROS Act as their opening offer for negotiations. Democrat leadership said bipartisan legislation wasn't an option because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to put the brakes on any new relief bill and suggested that states be given the option of declaring bankruptcy.
Pelosi, D-Calif., hit back on critics who say now is the time to "take a pause" on more spending and that the bill is bloated with liberal goodies.
"This is not a Christmas tree, there's nothing joyful about this," Pelosi said. "This is a very strategically planned piece of legislation."
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chided members who she said pay lip service to first responders and heroes but don’t back it up with money.
“Put up or shut up,” Waters told her colleagues. “Now is the time to do it.”
The atmosphere at the Capitol Friday reflected the health risks of the global pandemic. Many members and staff wore face masks. Lawmakers wiped down surfaces after they made speeches on the House floor. And voting took more than an hour as members were brought into the chamber in alphabetical waves to practice social distancing.
Despite Friday's fractured vote, lawmakers on both sides expressed optimism that they could find some bipartisan agreement in the future.
"We've proven that we can work together. We did for four straight bills," Cole said, referring to the nearly $3 trillion in aid Congress already passed. "... We know how to do this."
Fox News' Caroline McKee, Chad Pergram and Brooke Singman contributed to his report.