House expected to vote on economic stimulus package for coronavirus

By Jennifer Haberkorn

Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON — House Democrats and the Trump administration are on the brink of a deal on an economic stimulus bill to address fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, but it is uncertain whether congressional Republicans will support the measure, creating a sense of uncertainty on Capitol Hill.

The bill would provide temporary sick leave to Americans afflicted by COVID-19 and billions of dollars in aid to states for food programs and unemployment benefits.

It would also dramatically expand access to free coronavirus testing. Insurance companies would be required to cover it without a copay for consumers and a federal national disaster program would reimburse the cost for people without insurance.

With a sense of urgency to respond to the crisis overtaking Capitol Hill, Republicans are hoping that President Trump makes his position on the bill clear during a news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. EDT Friday.

“We are still waiting on the text, but we’re cautiously hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction,” said a House Republican aide.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hammered out the emerging deal with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin in more than a dozen phone calls over the last two days.

House Democrats have not yet released the text of the plan, but indicated they hoped to do so Friday, followed by approval on the House floor.

But with the support of congressional Republicans hanging in the balance, the bill’s long-term future is in doubt.

If House Republicans don’t support the bill, it would face uphill odds in the Republican-controlled Senate and could be blocked before it makes it to Trump’s desk. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was at the White House midday Friday as negotiations continued.

Republicans in Congress have often been skittish about voting on legislation before Trump has publicly weighed in, even on legislation that his Treasury secretary negotiated. In 2018, the White House indicated that Trump would support a bill to avert a government shutdown, but Trump reversed his position after the Senate had voted, leading to the longest partial shutdown in American history.

The bill would mark the second coronavirus response package approved by Congress and is unlikely to be the last.

“We’ve resolved most of our differences, and those we haven’t, we’ll continue the conversation because there will obviously be other bills,” Pelosi said late Thursday.

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