US House passes $3tn COVID-19 relief package

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WASHINGTON: The Democrat-led US House of Representatives has narrowly passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package that is likely to be rejected by the Senate amid near-unanimous Republican opposition and a veto threat from President Donald Trump.

The rescue plan was approved on Friday night by a tight 208-199 margin amid opposition by Republicans as well as some moderate and progressive Democrats, reports Efe news. At least 14 Democrats cross-voted while a Republican lawmaker also crossed party lines to vote in favour of the measure.

However, the future of the aid package remains doubtful since the Republicans have already announced that they will block it in the Senate. The package includes $1 trillion for states and local governments, as well as another round of direct payments of $1,200 to taxpayers with annual incomes less than $75,000.

The measure also includes undocumented immigrants for receiving the coronavirus aid payments. The White House and Republicans, as well as some Democrats, were opposing the package because they consider it costly since it allows states to spend on expenses unrelated to the pandemic.

The critics of the bill have warned that in some cases financial problems of states are related to the pre-pandemic days. If successful, the plan would be the largest in the history of the US. It exceeds the $2.2 trillion aid package approved at the end of March to help struggling Americans and mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

Democrats promoted the plan after the jobless claims accumulated over the past two months reached 36.5 million. They have highlighted their urgency against some sceptical Republicans to continue increasing public spending. Before voting on the economic package, Democrats also approved a change in the House rules that will allow the chamber, for the first time in its 231-year history, to operate remotely.

Remote voting will take place through proxies, although the door has been left ajar to use technology in the future to ensure lawmakers legislate safely during the pandemic. The change would allow the house, which has been practically paralyzed since the outbreak of the pandemic in early March, resume its activities.

Republicans opposed the change in regulation en bloc, arguing that it modifies the essence of Congress.

“Our founders used to ride days on horseback, on wagons, through unkind conditions to get to D.C.,” said Republican Doug LaMalfa. “Us, we only have to brave TSA lines and occasionally a delayed flight. You know, the Constitution here did not catch the virus. Why are we voting on a measure here to suspend it?”

However, House Majority Leader Democrat Steny H. Hoyer defended the changes, saying they were temporary and would “not fundamentally alter the nature of the House or how it operates”. “There is no dangerous precedent, only a common-sense solution to an unprecedented crisis that demands our ingenuity and adaptability as an institution,” Hoyer said.

The development comes as the US currently accounts for the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at 1,442,819 and 87,530, respectively.