US economy

US House passes $2tn coronavirus stimulus



The US House of Representatives has passed a historic $2.2tn stimulus package designed to prop up a US economy crippled by the spread of coronavirus.

Lawmakers debated the measure for three hours on Friday before a vote on the House floor. The package includes one-off “helicopter money” cheques of up to $1,200 for individuals, an extra $600 a week in unemployment insurance for those without work, and a $450bn bailout fund for US businesses, states and cities, among other provisions. 

The bill, which passed the Republican-controlled Senate in a 96-0 vote earlier this week, was approved in a “voice vote” in the Democrat-controlled House, with members calling “aye” or “nay”. It will now be sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

House members had rushed back to Washington on Friday to vote, having been in recess for nearly two weeks amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, had originally planned to pass the bill by “unanimous consent”, which allows for swift approval so long as no member objects. Such a manoeuvre would have prevented lawmakers from having to return to the Capitol. 

But Steny Hoyer, the Democratic House majority leader, called House members back to Washington late on Thursday, after Thomas Massie, a Republican congressman from Kentucky, suggested he would request a “roll call”, requiring a quorum of members of Congress to appear on the House floor to vote.

Mr Massie, who voted against the bill, demanded a roll call on the House floor on Friday afternoon, but his request was denied because it did not have the support of at least half of House members in attendance.

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In an effort to practice “social distancing”, House members spread out in the legislative chamber on Friday, with many sitting in a public gallery to avoid being too close to their colleagues.

Two House members — Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah, and Mario Díaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida — have tested positive for Covid-19, while others have self-isolated at the advice of their doctors. 

Many have also raised concerns that the US Capitol, where lawmakers and staffers spend long hours in close quarters, could be a hotspot for spreading the virus. Many lawmakers in both the House and Senate are over the age of 65, putting them at higher risk for severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats and Republicans alike voiced their disapproval of Mr Massie as they scrambled to get back to Washington Friday.

“Because of one Member of Congress refusing to allow emergency action entire Congress must be called back to vote in House,” Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, said on Twitter. “Risk of infection and risk of legislation being delayed. Disgraceful. Irresponsible.”

Mr Trump also weighed in, calling Mr Massie a “third rate grandstander” and suggesting he be “thrown out” of the Republican party.

“He just wants the publicity,” Mr Trump said on Twitter on Friday morning. “He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous and costly. Workers and small businesses need money now in order to survive.”

The global economy is bracing for recession. Our capital markets reporter Joe Rennison took your questions about the impact of coronavirus in financial markets in our Reddit AMA.



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