Huge virus recovery bill clears US House, fate uncertain in Senate

Washington (AFP) –


House Democrats on Friday narrowly pushed through the largest-ever US economic rescue package, but the coronavirus measure faces headwinds in the White House and Senate where Republicans bemoan its $3 trillion price tag.

The Heroes Act, which passed largely along party lines, provides some $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of cash disbursements to millions of hard-hit American families, funds for hospitals and health workers, and relief for devastated small businesses.

The 1,815-page measure also would extend unemployment and food aid; provide rent and mortgage support for struggling households, and pump billions of dollars into virus testing, tracing operations and treatment.

"We think this is a major investment in the lives of the American people and in the budgets of our states and localities," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The American people, more than 36 million of whom have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus catastrophe and related business lockdown, "are suffering so much, in so many ways," Pelosi added. "We want to lessen the pain for them."

All but one Republican opposed the bill, along with 14 Democrats, as the measure cleared the House on a vote of 208 to 199.

Many Republicans branded it an exorbitant liberal wish list packed with Democratic priorities like funding for vote-by-mail programs or marijuana studies.

"It's not a stretch to say that this bill is nothing more than a Democratic policy agenda masquerading as a response to the coronavirus crisis," House Republican Tom Cole told colleagues.

"The Senate will not pass this bill, the president will not sign it into law."

Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate have said they are opposed to moving swiftly with a new tranche of relief, preferring more time to study how the previous aid measures have helped American communities.

Pelosi has said the bill is effectively an opening offer, and she expects Republicans to join Democrats in negotiating compromise legislation.

Trump has already signed four pandemic relief measures into law.

They include a $2.2 trillion package in March and a $483 billion measure to pump additional funds into a loan program for hard-hit small businesses.