WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed another round of spending Thursday to fend off economic calamity as the new coronavirus continues to create commercial chaos.
With a price tag of $484 billion, the newest deal cut between the Trump administration and Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats will temporarily replenish about $320 billion into a forgivable loan fund earmarked for small businesses, and another $60 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which is a grant set up to serve as a company's life support while it awaits a larger small-business loan. Additionally, Congress appropriated $75 billion to support hospitals and $25 billion for additional coronavirus testing.
The bill passed almost unanimously in the House, with only a handful of nay votes. All Texans in attendance voted for the bill. Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Ron Wright of Arlington, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, did not vote.
This spending comes less than a month after a much larger, $2.2 trillion bill known as the CARES Act thrust the federal government into the role of providing life support for institutions bearing the brunt of COVID-19 and the social distancing rules implemented around the country that have shocked the economy.
The hope is that this new round will mitigate disparities in allocating small-businesses loans, a sore point in the business community. The initial $350 billion designated in the CARES Act for this pot of money was depleted in less than two weeks after overwhelming demand from businesses.
In order to cut down on the growth of federal bureaucracy, the Trump administration created a process in which banks serve as a middle man between the government money and the small-business owner. Banks, however, emerged as a bottleneck point where money was not always doled out based on immediate need. This time around, Congress earmarked $60 billion to be directed to institutions that serve small-business owners who may not have access to banking resources.
Members voted in groups determined by alphabetical order, with an aim that no more than eight members were on the U.S. House floor at a time. The CARES Act similarly passed late last month with unique voting procedures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 within the chamber.
"It's important, I think, that people see us back at work," said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. "It’s been ... very uncomfortable to be not on the job when so many people are sacrificing and putting themselves out there on the front lines, and we've kind of been holding ourselves back. I don't think that's a good look for the United States Congress."
The Senate passed the bill via voice vote Tuesday. President Donald Trump is expected to promptly sign the bill into law.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, weighed in as the ranking member of the House's tax-writing committee with a full endorsement.
“This bill replenishes crucial help for Main Street businesses and local health care providers while devoting more resources to producing more tests and distributing them more quickly," Brady said. "Those are our immediate, urgent priorities. It’s now time to work with President Trump on a plan forward: one that crushes the virus and creates a path toward prosperity for our workers and local businesses.”
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, also released a statement.
“This bill is a good step, and we have much more work to do, including providing assistance to all our cities. Our economic future is directly tied to our public health response," he said. "I hope that our focus moving forward can be on developing a plan to dramatically ramp up testing, contact tracing and treatment."
Earlier in the afternoon, the House voted to create a new committee with subpoena power to oversee the federal government's response to the pandemic. That vote, however, fell along more partisan lines.
"Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi is once again trying to jam through legislation that will create a duplicative, unnecessary and politically motivated committee to oversee and track virus relief funding," said U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington. "After blocking small-business funding for two weeks, House Democrats decide to use taxpayer dollars for a political hack job while our nation fights a global pandemic.
"We already have committees, led by the Democrat majority, that are perfectly capable of providing comprehensive oversight. On top of that, we have seven additional oversight measures we put in place to make sure CARES Act funding, as well as other federal COVID-19 aid, is spent efficiently."
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