The House on Friday narrowly approved a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package (HR 6800). Alabama’s representatives voted along party lines, with Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell voting to approve and the Republicans voting against the matter.
The measure is unlikely to become law. Republican senators oppose it, and President Trump has said he would veto it.
Representatives voted 208 for and 199 against the bill, which includes nearly $1 trillion for state, local, tribal and territorial governments; $200 billion to fund hazard pay for essential workers including medical personnel and first responders; $100 billion for hospitals serving poor communities; $100 billion to help tenants pay rent; $75 billion in homeowner mortgage aid; $75 billion for testing for all and free coronavirus care for those without health insurance; $25 billion to sustain the Postal Service; $10 billion in disaster aid to businesses and non-profits shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program; $3.6 billion to boost ballot security and voter participation in this year’s elections; $600 million to help local police departments meet payroll and equipment costs; $600 million to address virus spread in state and federal prisons, and unspecified sums to cover $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits through January and a second round of stimulus payments of $1,200 to individuals and $2,400 to families up to certain income levels plus expanded child tax credits.
In addition, the bill would expand food stamps and nutritional assistance; fund student-loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 per borrower; open the Affordable Care Act to coronavirus victims lacking health insurance; expand so-called COBRA temporary medical insurance to those losing coverage at work; require the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to invoke coronavirus workplace rules within seven days; delay Census Bureau deadlines for supplying apportionment and redistricting data to jurisdictions; provide tax credits to incentivize employers to retain workers; expand earned-income tax credits for low-income families; temporarily lift a cap on tax deductions for state and local tax payments in certain states and shore up multi-employer pension plans in collective bargaining agreements.
Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., said the bill “provides real support for American heroes. Our cops, our teachers, our firemen, our first responders. It is supported by Republicans, and somebody needs to say that. Republican governors, Republican mayors, and Republican members from that side of the aisle that will vote for this.”
Steve Scalise, R-La., said, “We should also be talking about what’s not in this bill. [Democrats] have $500 billion in this package for states including many who already wrecked their economy and had billion dollar deficits prior to Covid-19. What’s not in this bill is money to hold China accountable for this whole mess.”
A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.
Voting yes: Terri Sewell, D-7
Voting no: Bradley Byrne, R-1, Martha Roby, R-2, Mike Rogers, R-3, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Mo Brooks, R-5, Gary Palmer, R-6
In Other House Votes
Rejecting GOP Change to Stimulus ID:
Voting 198 for and 209 against, the House on May 15 defeated a Republican motion to strip HR 6800 of a provision that would broaden ID requirements for receiving coronavirus stimulus checks. The disputed provision was intended to benefit, among others, those who do not have a Social Security number and do not file a federal tax return because of low income. It would have allowed them to use an IRS Taxpayer Identification Number to obtain a stimulus check, to which they are entitled by law. The first stimulus round of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for families up to certain income levels was approved by Congress in late March, and the second round is funded in the current bill.
Denver Riggleman, R-Va., said the ID provision would “allow illegal immigrants and non-citizens to get checks they are not eligible for. Now more than ever, we need to make sure these rebate checks go to Americans who need them.”
Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said, “The only thing Republicans can offer is regurgitated talking points about immigration. COVID-19 does not discriminate or differentiate on immigration status. Our country doesn’t have time for Republicans to relitigate the culture wars.”
A yes vote was to adopt the GOP motion.
Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer
Voting no: Sewell.
Conducting House Business by Remote Voting:
Voting 217 for and 189 against, the House on May 15 changed its rules to allow members to vote remotely in floor proceedings for the first time in the 231-year history of the institution. The measure (H Res 965) also permits House committees to conduct committee business by remote connections, including video links. A response to the coronavirus pandemic, the rules would be up for renewal in 45 days.
For voting on the House floor, each physically present member would be authorized to vote by proxy for up to 10 absent colleagues whose voting instructions, filed electronically with the clerk’s office, he or she would be obligated to follow.
Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said: “This is not just about protecting members of Congress (but) about protecting all of those who come in contact with us. Convening Congress must not turn onto a super-spreader event. Technology has changed considerably over the last 231 years. There are now tools available to make committee proceedings and remote voting on the House floor possible.”
Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said: “Through the Civil War, the 1918 flu, World War II, 9-11, throughout our history, there has never been proxy voting on this floor. Members accepted the risk and carried out their duty to the best of their ability. It was not about technology, it was about trust and integrity. Were our predecessors so much braver than we are?”
A yes vote was to adopt the resolution.
Voting yes: Sewell.
Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer
Renewing Domestic Surveillance Authority:
Voting 80 for and 16 against, the Senate on May 14 approved a five-year extension (HR 6172) of three sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that require periodic congressional renewal because of their direct clash with Americans’ civil liberties.
One section allows law enforcement to place roving wiretaps on homegrown or foreign terrorist suspects moving about the United States, and another authorizes government surveillance on U.S. soil of foreign “lone wolf” suspects not linked to terrorist organizations.
Under the third section, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can authorize forever-secret FBI searches of domestic library, bookstore and business records if the agency shows “reasonable grounds” the targeted information is vital to an ongoing domestic probe of specifically defined foreign-sponsored threats to national security. This authority is rooted in Section 215 of FISA, a law enacted in 1978 and expanded after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to strengthen government powers to detect and prevent terrorist threats to America.
In part, this bill prohibits the use of Section 215 to obtain GPS and cell-phone locations; requires most information obtained in Section 215 searches to be destroyed after five years; requires the attorney general to approve in writing FISA warrants issued against elected officials or candidates; expands Civil Liberties Oversight Board powers to monitor abuses in the discharge of the FISA law; restricts the National Security Agency’s already-scaled-back collection of meta data on telecommunications passing through U.S. switching points; and requires the government to disclose within 180 days all substantive opinions by the FISA court.
John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the FISA statute “has been amended several times over the more than 30 years that it has been law, particularly since 9/11 … . It is time to, once again, strengthen the oversight of our nation’s intelligence activities and restore trust in our critical institutions.”
Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the original sponsors of the FISA law, “who intended to restrain unconstitutional searches, would be appalled at what the FISA court has become … that this secret court intended to be used to investigate foreign spies and terrorists was turned into a powerful and invasive force to infiltrate and disrupt the political process.”
A yes vote was to send the bill back to the House.
Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R, Doug Jones, D
Voting no: None
Expanding Civil Liberties Safeguards:
Voting 77 for and 19 against, the Senate on May 13 amended HR 6172 (above) to expand civil liberties’ protections for religious institutions, public officials, news organizations and other parties targeted or innocently swept up in probes conducted under Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The amendment would give judges in the secret FISA courts more authority to order independent “amicus curiae’ legal reviews by outside counsel of government actions in such cases.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said: “We have an opportunity to reform our flawed surveillance authorities. These opportunities don’t come by often. We shouldn’t squander it, especially when the Justice Department’s own inspector general has been alerting us of the widespread problems within the FISA process.”
No senator spoke against the amendment.
A yes vote was to adopt the amendment.
Voting yes: Jones
Voting no: Shelby
Requiring Warrants for Browser Searches:
Voting 59 for and 37 against, the Senate on May 13 rejected an amendment to HR 6172 (above) that sought to prohibit federal investigators from conducting warrantless searches of internet browser and search-engine histories under Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Supporters needed 60 votes to gain approval of their amendment.
Steve Daines, R-Mont., said: “Browser data is extremely personal, sensitive, and (it) should require a probable cause warrant to access. If you want to see an American’s search history, then you better go to a judge and get a warrant.”
Opponents said that the amendment would imperil national security by delaying FISA court approval of government applications to surveil terrorism suspects on U.S. soil.
A yes vote was to adopt the amendment.
Voting yes: None
Voting no: Shelby, Jones
KEY VOTES AHEAD
The Senate will debate judicial and executive branch nominations during the week of May 18, and the House will be in recess.