UPDATE - 3/18/20 (9pm EDT): President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) into law Wednesday night.
UPDATE - 3/18/20 (4:10pm EDT): The Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) on a bipartisan vote of 90-8. It now heads to the desk of President Donald Trump, who has indicated he will sign it into law in the near future.
The bill that will soon become law is the second in a series of at least three bills related to coronavirus that have been or will be considered by Congress:
- "Phase one" was the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R 6074), which provided $8.3 billion to fund acquisition of medical supplies and develop treatments and vaccines. It passed Congress with bipartisan support in both chambers and was signed into law.
- "Phase two" is the bill that will soon become law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), which ensures the availability of free coronavirus testing, in addition to providing for paid leave under certain circumstances, and expanding food aid & unemployment insurance benefits during the outbreak.
- "Phase three" is being negotiated now, and is expected to provide economic relief and stimulus to Americans, small businesses, and companies in industries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. A vote in the Senate will likely occur soon after negotiations conclude, while the House would like reconvene and vote on it late this week or early next week depending on when the Senate finishes its work.
UPDATE - 3/18/20: The Senate reached an agreement to expedite consideration of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) ahead of the bill's expected passage Wednesday. It is in the midst of a series of four votes, the first three of which are on amendments that are expected to be defeated, and all of which require at least 60 votes to succeed:
- Amendment 1556 from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) would offset the cost of coronavirus relief by ending U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, requiring a Social Security number to claim the child tax credit, and giving the president the authority to transfer existing funds to pay for coronavirus relief programs. Not adopted 3-95.
- Amendment 1559 from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) would establish a permanent paid leave and family medical leave benefits program. It would provide 14 emergency paid sick days during a public health emergency and 12 weeks of emergency paid family & medical leave ― all fully reimbursed by the federal government ― in addition to requiring that workers can permanently accrue 7 paid sick days. Not adopted 47-51.
- Amendment 1558 from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) would remove paid leave requirements from H.R. 6201, create a Temporary Federal Unemployment Insurance Program in which states would expand unemployment insurance eligibility to individuals who can't work due to coronavirus. Workers could earn the lesser of 2/3 of their average weekly earnings or $1,000 without waiting periods or work search requirements for up to 14 weeks retroactive to March 1, 2020. The federal government would fully reimburse states for the costs of expanded unemployment eligibility under this program, and would reimburse employers with fewer than 500 employees that voluntarily provide paid leave to employees who can't work due to coronavirus. The Temporary Federal Unemployment Insurance Program would end when the president ends the coronavirus emergency declaration or on December 31, 2020. Not adopted 50-48.
- Passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201). Passed 90-8.
Senate votes are typically allotted 15 minutes, but to make it easier for senators to practice social distancing the voting period has been lengthened to 30 minutes.
UPDATE - 3/16/20 (8:11pm EDT): The House passed the technical corrections to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) by unanimous consent.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) spoke on the floor reserving his right to object, and expressed his reservations about the process by which the bill passed early Saturday morning, but explained that he believes the technical corrections improve the bill and withdrew the objection.
The corrected bill now heads to the Senate, where it's expected to be considered on Tuesday. The text of the corrected legislation hasn't yet been made publicly available.
Countable's original story appears below.
The House is scrambling to agree on a technical fix to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), which passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 363-40 (with 1 present) shortly before 1am EDT Saturday morning, before it approves the bill for a second time and sends it to the Senate. House leaders had hoped to quickly approve the updated bill by unanimous consent during the chamber’s pro forma session Monday morning, but the changes were still in flux.
The technical problem is related to the bill’s provisions impacting small- and medium-sized business, and House leadership is negotiating with the Trump administration on a resolution. The glitch is the latest in what has been a ponderous process of approving the package:
- The initial version of the bill, drafted exclusively by House Democrats and totaling 124 pages, was introduced at 11:01pm EDT last Wednesday ahead of a planned vote Thursday afternoon.
- Thursday’s vote was postponed after it became clear the bill’s partisan nature would cause it to stall the bill in the Senate, so negotiations began between House Democrats and the White House on a bipartisan bill.
- After protracted negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday, a revised 110 page bill was introduced at 11:57pm EDT Friday and passed on the bipartisan vote at 12:51am Saturday.
The revisions that are being negotiated could add several dozen pages of legislative text to the bill, and it may not be finalized until shortly before a vote. The hurried process may result in a lawmaker objecting to the bill’s passage by unanimous consent, which could mean the House has to hold the re-vote with only a skeleton crew of representatives on hand or recall the entire chamber for the vote. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) warned that he'd object to a UC request if he is denied the opportunity to review the updated legislation beforehand.
While the bill is likely to eventually pass the House, either by unanimous consent or on a recorded vote, the timing with which the bill is approved will impact how quickly it’s considered by the Senate where there are more potential obstacles.
Once the bill reaches the Senate, there will need to be another unanimous consent agreement reached for the bill to get expedited consideration ― such as bypassing a cloture motion, voting on it quicker than usual, forgoing amendment votes, or expediting debate.
Here’s how the process could hypothetically play out under regular order without a unanimous consent agreement if the House passes the updated bill Monday:
- The Senate receives the bill from the House late Monday, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) files a cloture motion, which is essentially a parliamentary tool to limit further debate on the bill before a final vote.
- By rule, a cloture motion must “ripen” for one full day before it can receive a vote ― so the cloture motion would ripen Tuesday ahead of a vote Wednesday.
- Cloture motions are subject to a 60-vote threshold. If the vote Wednesday succeeds, then further debate on the bill would be limited to 30 hours before a final vote, meaning the vote on final passage would occur Thursday or Friday.
That process in the Senate could be greatly accelerated if a UC agreement is reached at any stage of the process. While the chamber is known for its deliberative processes, it has the ability to act very quickly if all 100 senators are in agreement on an issue ― but it only takes an objection from one senator to derail a UC agreement.
This post will be updated as news regarding the bill's status develops.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / dkfielding)
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