WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday narrowly approved a $3 trillion bill crafted by Democrats to provide more aid for battling the coronavirus and stimulating a faltering economy rocked by the pandemic.
By a vote of 208-199 Democrats won passage of a bill that Republican leaders, who control the Senate, and President Donald Trump have vowed to block despite some Republican support for provisions aimed at helping state and local governments.
But the measure could trigger a new round of negotiations with congressional Republicans and Trump, who have been talking about the need for new business liability protections in the age of coronavirus or additional tax cuts.
Democrats oppose both of those ideas.
Following the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that May 27-28 would be set aside for voting on some sort of coronavirus-related bill if one is ready by then.
He provided no details on the contents of such a bill.
The 1,800-page relief bill passed on Friday, called the Heroes Act, would extend to all corners of the U.S. economy. It includes $500 billion in aid to struggling state governments, another round of direct payments to people and families to help stimulate the economy, and hazard pay for healthcare workers and others on the front line of the pandemic.
“Many of them have risked their lives to save lives and many of them may lose their jobs” as state and local government revenues plummet during the crisis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a day-long debate.
The No. 2 Republican, Steve Scalise, urged the House to defeat the huge bill, calling it a “socialist giveaway” and blaming China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, for the suffering brought by the pandemic.
Passage of the bill came as the United States has recorded more than 85,000 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The number of U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths far outpace any other country.
Earlier on Friday the House also approved a change in its rules to allow members to temporarily cast their votes by proxy during the crisis if Pelosi deems it necessary.
The Democratic initiative, which was opposed by Republicans, marked an historic shift for Congress which had never before allowed lawmakers to cast votes from anywhere but the House chamber.
It came as Congress struggles to function amid the pandemic, with members mainly sheltering at home in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus.
Under the new proxy-voting rules, House members could cast votes from remote locations.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, and Patricia Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Writing by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Paul Simao, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis