WASHINGTON — A House coronavirus relief bill to provide health and unemployment assistance passed the Senate on Wednesday with an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority after being held up by a Republican lawmaker over an amendment tied to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Senate voted 90-8 to pass the bill that the House overwhelmingly approved with a bipartisan majority last Saturday. President Donald Trump has vowed to sign the legislation.
Both Nevada Democrats in the Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, voted for the bill.
The senators, in a joint statement, said the bill “takes bold steps” to make sure everyone can get testing and provide assistance to seniors, health care workers and families.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged his Republican conference to approve the package that includes provisions for free coronavirus testing, secure paid emergency leave, Medicaid funding to states and unemployment insurance.
“This is a time for urgent bipartisan action, and in this case I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers,” McConnell said.
It was the second bill approved by Congress providing relief due to the coronavirus outbreak. Congress approved an $8.3 billion measure this month.
Senate Republicans and the White House are currently writing a third relief bill to provide assistance to businesses and workers affected by the economic impact of the deadly virus.
The price tag on that legislation could go as high as $1 trillion and include $1,000 cash payments to individuals.
Nevada asks for help
Nevada’s entire congressional delegation has asked leaders in both parties, and in both the House and Senate, to consider the tourism industry and its workers following the closures of hotels, casinos, restaurants and resorts.
As a result of closures in Las Vegas, Reno and other cities in Nevada, “workers face mounting financial, physical and emotional distress including reduced hours, layoffs.”
The Senate bill being written by Republicans and in conjunction with the White House must go to the House, where Democrats control the appropriations process.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., the co-chair of the tourism and gaming caucuses, has asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other leaders for assistance addressing the needs of the industries that are lifeblood to the Nevada economy.
Other states rely heavily on tourism and gaming, too, with over 4.6 billion jobs nationally, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
“We look forward to working with you on a long-term recovery package that keeps these workers in mind,” Titus wrote Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The House bill that passed last weekend provided free testing, unemployment and health care remedies to states but did not address the larger economic impact of the crisis.
Objections delay bill
Still, the bill was initially held up by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who objected over language. Measures regarding paid sick leave were tweaked to move the bill to the Senate.
But once there, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delayed a vote on the bill until a vote was held on his amendment that would require, among other things, a reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the amendment “a colossal waste of time” as lawmakers scramble to head off the health and economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak that has closed businesses and shut down schools coast to coast.
While Republicans have sought to target aid to industries like the airlines that have been hard hit by the virus, Democrats have countered with plans for the Senate bill to target workers and families who have been impacted by layoffs, shutdowns and other financial hardships.
Schumer said Democrats would not go along with bailouts that allow executives to pocket bonuses or corporations to conduct stock buy-backs at the expense of workers without pay due to unemployment or furloughs.