The U.S. Capitol at night (Image via Flickr Commons)
WASHINGTON — Two Pennsylvania Democrats split from their party late Friday to vote against a a massive $3 trillion relief bill aimed at blunting the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Reps. Susan Wild, D-7th District, and Conor Lamb, D17th District, were among 14 U.S. House Democrats, many of whom are facing tough re-election bids, to cast ballots against the bill.
The sweeping legislation, which passed largely along partisan lines by a vote of 208-199, carries a price tag that’s roughly equal to the four previous coronavirus response bills already signed into law.
In a statement released by her office, Wild, of Allentown, said she voted against the bill because now “is the time to bring our nation together around solutions that will improve the lives of Americans who are hurting, not engage in partisan gamesmanship.”
Tonight I voted against a partisan bill in the midst of a pandemic.
Now is the time to bring our nation together around solutions that will improve the lives of Americans who are hurting, not engage in partisan gamesmanship.
My full statement ⬇️ https://t.co/wA0QVeyMDJ
— Rep. Susan Wild (@RepSusanWild) May 16, 2020
The remaining seven Democratic members of the Keystone State’s Democratic House delegation voted for the bill. All nine of the state’s Republicans voted against it, according to an official House roll call.
The measure contains nearly $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. It would also offer direct payments of $1,200 to Americans, extend federal unemployment benefits, increase funding for nutrition assistance programs and ensure that every American can vote by mail in the November election.
But the measure appears to be just a starting point for negotiations in the next round of congressional relief. The White House has issued a veto threat.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared the bill “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber of Congress.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the legislation an “urgently-needed relief package to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people from the devastation of the coronavirus crisis.” Many of her GOP colleagues, however, decried the bill as a roundup of Democratic priorities that had no chance of winning the votes of Senate Republicans.
The #HeroesAct will lift up Pennsylvania's struggling state and municipal governments — with a focus on giving needed support to our front-line workers, health care workers, grocery store workers, postal workers, children, and families as we continue to manage this pandemic. pic.twitter.com/mIT5HD2x3B
— Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (@RepDean) May 15, 2020
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-18th District, said the bill throws a vital lifeline to both frontline workers and the millions of Americans now unemployed because of the pandemic. Through midday Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had confirmed 60,622 cases of the virus in all 67 counties, with 4,342 confirmed fatalities.
“More than 30 million workers are unemployed, and many families are struggling to make ends meet,” Doyle said. “This bill does right by working families, putting additional direct payments in their pockets, extending the $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits into next year, creating a special enrollment period to help those who lost their health insurance when they lost their job access affordable healthcare, assisting renters and homeowners with their housing payments, and helping many to put more food on the table with bigger SNAP benefits.”
Congress has dedicated $3T to COVID-19 assistance; much of it, including millions in PA, has yet to be spent. We should be voting on a bill that fixes the failed policies that prevent aid from getting to our suffering constituents – not one that fulfills a liberal wish list. pic.twitter.com/t1VFldTMss
— RepScottPerry (@RepScottPerry) May 15, 2020
Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said amid the partisan squabbling on the House floor Friday, “This is not a Democratic effort. This is an effort that is supported by Republicans, and somebody needs to say that. Republican governors, Republican mayors, and there will be Republican members of that side of the aisle that vote for this.”
Many Republicans in the House, meanwhile, accused their colleagues across the aisle of wasting valuable time.
In a statement, freshman U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District, echoing GOP talking points on the Hill, dismissed the bill as a “socialist wish list,” that “does nothing to get Americans back to work and start recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“This legislation is an absolute non-starter. During my time in Harrisburg and in Congress, I have never seen such a partisan piece of legislation actually receive a vote. Far from addressing the very real and serious impacts of COVID-19, this legislation is simply a giveaway to liberal special interests,” Keller said.
The House vote came hours after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat facing pushback against his stay at home orders, announced that 12 more Pennsylvania counties will begin reopening next week. With that announcement, 49 of 67 counties will be reopened, with restrictions, starting May 22.
U.S. House lawmakers on Friday also approved a landmark rules change to allow members to work from afar during the pandemic.
The chamber approved a resolution that authorizes committees to work remotely during the pandemic and would allow voting by proxy. Under the resolution, one member could serve as a designated proxy for up to 10 members. It’s the first time in congressional history that remote floor voting will be allowed.
The New York Times noted that the COVID-19 outbreak prompted Congress to alter the voting-in-person requirements that persisted even through Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak of 1793, the Spanish influenza of 1918, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Let me say at the outset that there is no substitute for the personal interaction of members in a committee room or on the House floor,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., “But when that is not possible — because it poses a mortal danger to the health of members, staff, press, and the public — we must provide for alternative ways to do the people’s business.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who lives about 20 minutes away from the U.S. Capitol, said in an interview earlier this month, “I think I’m going to be a pretty busy guy if we actually end up with some kind of distance voting by proxy.”
The largely party line vote on the resolution was 217-189. Three Democrats voted against it: Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Rick Larsen of Washington and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona.
The resolution also directs a study into whether and how lawmakers can eventually vote remotely via secure technology.
Republican lawmakers berated that resolution, declaring that it sends the wrong signal to the country when essential employees are going to work in person every day, but members of Congress can opt to stay at home. They’ve also questioned whether remote voting is constitutional.
“You gotta be here to do the business of the people,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) “You can’t phone it in. You can’t mail it in.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., called it “a dark day in the history of our country” as Democratic leadership moved to allow proxy voting. Democrats are using the pandemic “to justify gutting the Constitution,” she said. “It is disgraceful.”
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