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The U.S. Capitol Building on April 1, 2017. (Courtesy/Jeff Slinker under Creative Commons)

The House passed a Democratic-drafted $3 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday that will not be considered in the GOP-led Senate, but laid down a marker for negotiations with Republican leaders and the White House.

The vote on the massive package, the fifth pandemic response measure created so far, came as the House also voted to temporarily allow proxy voting and as the Senate approved a measure reauthorizing federal law enforcement and intelligence agency surveillance powers that expired in March. 

The House bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes $915 billion for states and localities, $200 billion in hazard pay for front line workers, continues the $600-a-week increase in unemployment insurance through January and provides an additional $1,200 direct payment to individuals and up to $6,000 per household. Unlike the previous relief package, the CARES Act, the HEROES Act would allow undocumented people who pay taxes to receive direct payments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell panned the measure on the Senate floor last week.

“This is a totally unserious effort,” McConnell said Thursday. “The House gave themselves no assignments for two months except developing this proposal. Yet it still reads like the speaker of the House pasted together random ideas from her most liberal members and slapped the word ‘coronavirus’ on top of it.”

McConnell, while he didn’t rule out another relief bill, signaled a reluctance among Republicans for immediate action on more spending and instead stressed the need for increased testing and to provide liability protection to businesses and schools, which could be the target of lawsuits as states begin to reopen nonessential businesses, schools and universities. 

He noted that Congress has funded a ramp-up in testing in previous emergency spending packages and said it’s up to the White House and the states to take the lead on that effort. 

“On legal liability reform, the work lies ahead of us,” McConnell said. “As my Republican colleagues and I have made clear, strong legal protections will be a hard red line in any future legislation.”

HEROES Act

The measure was approved on a 207 to 199 vote with 14 Democrats opposing the package. One Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, voted for the bill. Twenty-four members did not make it back to Washington for the vote.

All of the state’s Democratic House members backed the bill, which includes $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and isolation measures, $175 billion to help renters and homeowners cover housing costs and an employee retention tax credit to incentivize employers to keep employees on payroll.

Rep. Steven Horsford said in a brief interview before the vote that he was “really excited about the fact that we have $8.7 billion” for Nevada’s state and local governments over the next two years.

Horsford said that includes cities such as North Las Vegas, in his district, that would receive more than $90 million in this year and more than $45 million next year.

“This funds our essential frontline workers, the people who are literally on the frontlines every single day of this pandemic,” he continued.

He urged Republicans to work with Democrats on a compromise bill. “I understand that this is not the final bill,” Horsford said. “My message is, now that this bill will be passed soon, that our colleagues work with us because what we cannot have happen is for more people to be laid off, more families to be hurt, or more lives to be lost from this pandemic.”

The package includes Horford’s proposal to have the federal government cover COBRA premiums for workers who lose their jobs because of the pandemic or cover the full cost of health insurance premiums owed by workers who are furloughed and not eligible for COBRA.

Rep. Dina Titus called on McConnell to start talks with Democrats.

“Health care workers, firefighters, police officers, and teachers in Clark County are in danger of losing their jobs without this relief,” she said before the vote. “We are in a dire situation and it’s time for Senator McConnell to come to the negotiating table to help those in need.”

Rep. Susie Lee said the measure was imperfect, but provided badly needed funding for local governments among other provisions she supports.

“While this bill is imperfect, I could not vote to derail this critical aid that will support direct services in our communities,” Lee said in a release.

Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, opposed the package citing a concern about a lack of collaboration with Republicans. 

He also said he would like to see the distribution of the CARES Act funds that Gov. Sisolak is responsible for sending to smaller localities. Local governments are submitting justification to the governor’s office to help determine how much each is entitled to. 

“The money that goes to the smaller areas in the state hasn’t even been distributed yet,” Amodei said. “It’s not like it’s not urgent, but you’re sitting there going, ‘hey, if they want it faster… at least exhaust the first amount of funds, so we know how it was distributed.”

Amodei said the state could also help itself by considering loosening restrictions where it can be safely done.

“It’d be nice to see some innovative thinking on how you’re going to help yourself…especially in those areas that aren’t hotspots,” the Nevada Republican said

“But it’s like, quite frankly, to sit there and say ‘we’re still shut down and how soon can you get us more money that you’re borrowing is,’ you know, that’s a little bit more of an involved discussion and evaluation and contextualization than just ‘we’re losing money and we need you guys to send it to us,’” Amodei continued.

President Donald Trump has raised concerns about providing funding for states, a move he has characterized as rewarding Democratic governors who have been profligate spenders. 

“I think Congress is inclined to do a lot of things but I don’t think they’re inclined to do bailouts,” President Donald Trump told The New York Post recently. 

The bill comes after Gov. Steve Sisolak, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro signed on to a letter by five western states asking Congress for $1 trillion in federal support for local and state governments.

States would receive $500 billion under the Heroes Act, of which $250 billion would be awarded within 30 days of enactment. Of the $250 billion, $51 billion would be divided equally among 50 states and District of Columbia, $49 billion awarded based on the state’s share of COVID-19 cases and $150 billion awarded based on population.

The other $250 billion would be awarded by May 3, 2021. Of that pot of funding, $51 billion would be divided equally and $199 billion would be based on the state’s share of unemployed individuals.

Local governments would receive a total of $375 billion and tribal government and U.S. territories would get $20 billion each.

Republicans also took issue with a provision that would remove, for two years, the $10,000 limit on deducting state and local taxes (SALT) from federal taxes. The SALT cap was imposed by the 2017 tax reform law, pushed through by Republicans and Trump, and hit taxpayers hard in states with high taxes such as New York, New Jersey, and California. 

FISA

The Senate Thursday voted 80 to 16 to approve legislation that would renew surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen supported the measure, which goes back to the House, which initially approved the bill in March.

Earlier in the week, the Senate added a provision—not in the House-approved version—to enhance legal protections for Americans targeted by the FISA court. Approved 77 to 19 on Wednesday, the amendment would facilitate oversight by neutral third parties over FISA warrants on U.S. citizens. Both Cortez Masto and Rosen backed the amendment.

It’s unclear whether the House will pass the bill. Rep. Dina Titus voted against the House version in March citing the need for more civil liberties protections. 

Miscellany 

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and concern about large gatherings of lawmakers at hearings or for votes on the House floor, the chamber voted 217 to 189 to allow proxy voting for 45 days, with the option of extending the period as needed.

All Democratic members of the state’s delegation supported the resolution. Republicans said that the plan sets a bad precedent that would weaken the rights of the House minority.

“The rights of the Minority in the House must be protected,” Republican committee ranking members said in a May 14 letter. “Without the ability to ensure the rights of our Members are secured, we cannot support your efforts and will oppose any attempt to alter the rules.”

Under the new rule, a member can vote on behalf of up to ten colleagues who cannot make the vote. Proxy voters must receive precisely written instruction from the member voting by proxy on each vote and are required to follow that instruction without deviation. The rule also allows Congress to hold virtual hearings, markups, and depositions. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced the nomination of Jennifer Togliatti to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for Nevada. 

The nomination now heads to the full Senate. Cortez Masto and Rosen, who both back her nomination, praised the move. A former state court judge, Togliatti works as a mediator and arbitrator for Advanced Resolution Management (ARM) in Las Vegas.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3750 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to modify the accelerated and advance payment programs under parts A and B of the Medicare program during the COVID-19 emergency.

S. 3744 – Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020

S. 3725 – A bill to expand vote by mail and early voting, and to improve the safety, accessibility, and efficiency of in-person voting during elections for Federal office.

S. 3690 – A bill to provide for E-Rate support for Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices during emergency periods relating to COVID-19, and for other purposes.

S. 3685 – A bill to provide emergency rental assistance under the Emergency Solutions Grants program of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in response to the public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3750 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to modify the accelerated and advance payment programs under parts A and B of the Medicare program during the COVID-19 emergency.

S. 3730 – A bill to amend title 49, United States Code, to authorize and modernize the registered traveler program of the Transportation Security Administration, and for other purposes.

S. 3725 – A bill to expand vote by mail and early voting, and to improve the safety, accessibility, and efficiency of in-person voting during elections for Federal office.

S. 3722 – A bill to authorize funding for a bilateral cooperative program with Israel for the development of health technologies with a focus on combating COVID-19.

S. 3712 – A bill to require the Secretary of Commerce to establish national cybersecurity grand challenges, and for other purposes.

S. 3701 – A bill to require the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to promulgate regulations to provide support to institutions of higher education for the provision of certain equipment and services to students of those institutions, and for other purposes.

S. 3690 – A bill to provide for E-Rate support for Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices during emergency periods relating to COVID-19, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 6842 – To amend title 23, United States Code, to modify the apportionment formula for the congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6820 – To provide emergency rental assistance under the Emergency Solutions Grants program of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in response to the public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 6849 – To provide emergency rental assistance under the Emergency Solutions Grants program of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in response to the public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6820 – To provide emergency rental assistance under the Emergency Solutions Grants program of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in response to the public health emergency resulting from the coronavirus, and for other purposes.

H.R. 6799 – To provide a payroll credit for certain fixed expenses of employers subject to closure by reason of COVID-19.

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