Dan Neumann contributed to this reporting.
On Monday night, Congress authorized and sent President Donald Trump the first major COVID-19 relief measure since the spring, a sprawling spending bill that would provide $ 900 billion in pandemic-related aid, but which does not didn’t go far enough for some congressional Maine delegation.
Bipartite relief deal that ended months of bargaining would go on a panoply of aids sought for a long time, including direct payments to Americans of $ 600, an additional $ 300 a week in unemployment benefits, and billions more in struggling small business loans.
“It is incredibly disappointing that this bill caps stimulus checks at half the amount passed by the House in May and that it does not include full assistance to local governments in states that barely walk on water. “said Representative Chellie Pingree, Democrat. tweeted Monday. “Although this assistance is insufficient, I […] voted yes because half a loaf is better than no bread at all.
Pingree added, “I look forward to working with the Biden administration to transfer funds to state and local governments and more direct aid to Americans.”
Maine Independent Senator Angus King also said relief was not enough and more support must be provided when President-elect Joe Biden takes office. “This bill will do a lot of good, for a lot of people, but it’s not enough,” King said tweeted. “There is still work to be done, and I hope that in the months to come we will continue to negotiate in a bipartisan spirit to provide additional support to those in need.”
In contrast, Senior Maine Senator Susan Collins said, “common sense planIs a “victory for the American people.” Collins and King were among the centrist senators, including the Sense. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who proposed a framework for the back-up plan last week.
Collins, who last week called the package a “Christmas miracle,” said on Monday that the $ 600 stimulus checks would be “welcome. Christmas gift for many families in Maine.
Representative Jared Golden, a Democrat, voted against the $ 3.4 trillion HEROES bill proposed by House Democrats in May, calling it a non-partisan because it lacked bipartisan support. On Monday, he issued a statement attributing the latest package to “much needed help for small businesses and hospitals, the unemployed and families struggling to put food on the table,” but criticized Congress for failing to do so. compromise earlier. “We should not let the fact that Congress is finally taking action deflect attention from its inability to act sooner. This relief legislation could and should have happened months ago, and it’s sad that congressional leaders let partisan interests get in the way of a deal sooner.
House leaders split the bill into two parts and passed the emergency relief portion on a vote of 359-53. Another part, which passed 327-85, included Pentagon spending for the coming year, including $ 4 billion for Navy weapons, $ 2 billion for Air Force missiles and $ 500 million for Israel.
The Senate combined the two bills and approved the package in an overwhelming 92 to 6 vote shortly before midnight. The White House has signaled that Trump will sign the 5,593-page measure.
The package will also send nearly $ 9 billion to states to help distribute vaccines and $ 22 billion for more coronavirus testing and tracing. In addition, it contains billions more in child care aid, school aid, food aid and money for farmers; financing of transport; rent assistance and extension of the moratorium on evictions; and the end of surprise billing in emergency and scheduled care.
It does not provide the additional help sought by state and local governments struggling with massive budget deficits, nor the liability protections sought for employers who could face COVID 19-related lawsuits if employees are infected with the virus. virus. The measure also does not extend the suspension of interest and student loan payments which will expire at the end of January.
This stimulus bill has been sandwiched in broader legislation totaling $ 1.4 trillion that pays for federal government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, and was up for debate in Congress hours before another deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
While fiscal year 2021 government operations will be funded through September, Congressional Democrats have described emergency pandemic assistance as only a small part of what is needed to cope. to the current crisis.
Millions of Americans remain on jobless lists, and state vaccine distribution efforts have barely begun, as rising cases have led to a new wave of restrictions on businesses and gatherings Across the country.
“I hope that as we see the need for what we have done in this nearly $ 900 billion legislation that we will be voting on today, everyone will understand that this is a first step,” he said. said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the floor on Monday. “This is a first step, as President-elect Biden said. This is a first step, and we will have to do more.
The aid plan is the first major aid legislation to reach Trump since the approval of the CARES law in March, due to months of deadlock over the scope of another aid package. The Democratic-controlled House approved several additional relief measures, but those proposals did not advance to the Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Republicans blamed Democrats in this chamber for blocking aid proposals, while Democrats argued that these alternative bills did not go far enough.
In touting the new relief bill on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the measure’s price, saying it requires less than $ 350 billion in new spending because more half a trillion dollars in previously approved spending is being reallocated.
Agreement on the pandemic relief bill emerged late last week, but those talks went on all weekend due to disagreement on a provision sought by US Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to ensure that several Federal Reserve temporary loan programs end this year.
Democrats opposed the provision, arguing that the language he was looking for was too broad and could restrict the Fed’s authority too much. Negotiators worked for several days to refine the language Toomey searched for, clarifying which programs would end at the end of the year.
The full text of the bill was only released early Monday afternoon, just hours before House lawmakers kicked off debate on the measure.
Rep. Mark Walker (RN.C.), who was not in Capitol Hill for the vote due to potential exposure to COVID-19, lamented the rapid turnaround, calling the bill “flawed at the both in its content and in its process. . “
Democratic Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado said he “would certainly prefer lawmakers to have 24 hours to review legislation, especially of this scope and size.”
“But obviously there are urgent circumstances right now in the urgency of this crisis,” added Neguse.
President-elect Joe Biden released a statement in support of the emergency relief bill on Sunday evening, saying it “will provide essential resources to fight COVID-19.”
“But this action in the lame duck session is just the start. Our job is far from over, ”Biden added.
Official photo of Senators Susan Collins, Angus King and Representative Chellie Pingree in 2018.