US House Democrats on Friday approved a mammoth USD 3 trillion relief package designed to alleviate the health and economic fallout of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, seeking to add pressure on Senate Republicans to act on a new round of emergency aid.
The 208-199 vote was largely on party lines, with a mix of progressive and centrist Democrats breaking away from party leaders in opposition, and a sole Republican -- Rep. Peter King of New York -- defecting from the GOP to vote "yes", The Hill reported. Speaker Nancy Pelosi characterised the legislation, crafted by Democrats without consulting Republicans, as their opening salvo in talks with the GOP-controlled Senate and White House.
"We're putting our offer on the table. We're open to negotiation," Pelosi said.
Senate Republicans have signalled little urgency in moving quickly, though they also came under some pressure from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell who in a speech this week said more action from Congress would be needed to help an economy haemorrhaging jobs.
"I think we all believe that another bill probably is going to be necessary," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Thursday night.
"But I'm not prepared today to put a precise date on when that will be," McConnell added.
Democrats have gone on the attack against McConnell, arguing he is wrong to say urgent action isn't needed amid a crisis that has led to 86,000 deaths and 36 million people newly unemployed.
Republicans have hammered the bill's costs and argued a more careful approach is merited given the expenses already incurred by the government.
"States are beginning to open up. We just passed USD3 trillion already in a bipartisan manner that continues to have to be implemented," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol before the vote.
The Democrats' new proposal includes hundreds of billions of dollars for medical equipment and coronavirus testing, a new round of direct cash payments for individuals and families and an expansion of unemployment insurance benefits.
It also includes a host of favoured liberal provisions which have come under attack by Republicans and have little chance of surviving the coming negotiations. That list includes funding to expand nutrition programs, boost the US Postal Service, subsidised rent and mortgage payments, and help cover student-loan costs.
A third of the bill -- almost USD1 trillion -- would go to state and local governments to shore up coffers battered by emergency spending and a loss of tax revenue. Those funds are necessary, supporters argue, to preserve the jobs of the front-line workers -- police officers, transit workers, 911 operators and medical personnel -- fighting to contain the public health threat.
Democrats named their bill the HEROES Act to honour those workers.
"Many of them have risked their lives to save lives, and now they may lose their jobs," Pelosi said on the floor.