House Clears $2+ Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package for President’s Signature

The House of Representatives has passed the $2+ trillion third coronavirus response bill (H.R. 748, as amended) – and passed it by a voice vote. The bill now goes to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law shortly.

How did a bill this big pass by voice? Well, a lot of members were unable to make it back to DC because of travel or self-quarantine restrictions, and many of those who could not make it did not want to be seen as being absent on a key vote, so their colleagues covered for them when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) shrugged off the urging of leaders of both parties and tried to force a roll call vote.

The Constitution (Article I, sec. 5, clause 1)) says “a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business” meaning any action taken when less than a majority was present is invalid (exempt, as the section goes on to say, motions to adjourn, and motions to compel the attendance of absent members). At any time when the House takes a roll call vote to pass a bill or resolution, if less than half of the House casts a vote, the outcome of the vote is not valid (except for, as mentioned, motions to adjourn).

How to square that with the fact that the chamber looks empty most all the time? Well, once a quorum is established, the chair assumes a quorum is present until a member stands up and suggests that one is not present, at which point the chair counts for a quorum. That is what Massie did when debate on H.R. 748 expired.

The bipartisan leadership arranged for at least 216 members to be present (half of the current 430 House members, plus one to make a majority) in the chamber when Massie made his demand (they were spaced evenly throughout the floor and the galleries above, which were closed to spectators). Once the chair counted 216, Massie tried to demand a roll call vote, but the Constitution (Article I, sec. 5, clause 3) says that “the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered…” The chair does this by asking members requesting a roll call to rise and for all others to remain seated. Far less than 44 members stood up to back Massie, so the House rejected a roll call vote, and allowed the bill to pass by voice vote. (This kind of roll call avoidance happened a lot back in the “pre-sunshine” old days but not so much lately.)

The Speaker pro tempore then declared the bill passed by voice vote and immediately adjourned the House. (Had a roll call been needed, these social distancing procedures would have been used.)

The House hasn’t passed anything this major without a roll call, though, since December 23, 2011, when at Speaker Boehner’s direction, the House (during what was supposed to be a pro forma session, with only a handful of members in D.C.) took up and passed a package of extensions of the payroll tax holiday, emergency unemployment insurance, and health care provisions by unanimous consent, with most members not having been given enough notice to get back to Washington to object. (That was 11 months before Rep. Massie took office.)

The Senate passed the coronavirus bill just before midnight on March 25 by a roll call vote of 96 to 0 after rejecting a Sasse (R-NE) amendment restricting the expanded unemployment compensation provided by the bill by a tie vote of 48 yeas, 48 nays (60 votes being necessary for adoption under the expedited procedures being used).

The House and Senate are not expected to reconvene until April 20.

In terms of the total cost of this bill, no one knows. We know that the first coronavirus response bill (P.L. 116-123), enacted March 6, cost $8 billion (Congressional Budget Office score here). We know that the second coronavirus bill (P.L. 116-127), enacted March 18, cost at least $105 billion because we have the JCT score of the tax credits only, but the bill had a lot more than tax credits in it, and we still don’t have a score from CBO.

As for the pending third bill, ETW counts at least $2 trillion in aid, but that could climb much higher, because we still don’t have any idea how much the unemployment insurance, or the health, education, pension and finance portions of title II, will cost. (The Senate Appropriations Committee scored its division of the bill, and the Joint Committee on Taxation scored the revenue provisions of the bill yesterday.) The title I small business money is not counted as loan volume because the budget authority is actually appropriated (because the loans are designed to convert into grants if certain conditions are obeyed). Estimated aid provided, rounded to the billion dollars:

But in that $2+ trillion, we have a good handle on $114 billion in direct federal aid to the transportation sector, as follows:

This issue of ETW has six articles relating to the mode-specific contents of the “CV3” legislation:

ETW will have more next week about the initial implementation of the new bill and the rest of the effects that the coronavirus is having on transportation and infrastructure.

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