After months of political impasse, Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package late Monday night. Congressional leaders added it to a must-pass $1.4 trillion budget bill, bringing the package’s total cost to $2.3 trillion.
While both Colorado senators voted for the package, the state’s representatives had a mixed record.
The House split the vote on the bill up into two parts, giving a window into how lawmakers felt about each part of the spending package. For the first part of the budget bill, which dealt with departments such as Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Commerce and Finance, only Republican Rep. Ken Buck voted no out of the state’s House delegation. When it came to the second half of the budget bill and the COVID-19 portion, the split was along party lines, with Colorado Democrats voting in support and Republicans against.
A spokesperson for President Donald Trump said he will sign the measure into law.
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette said the COVID-19 relief agreement doesn’t “do nearly enough to provide everyone with the support they need.”
“While this bill increases unemployment benefits for those who lost their job, extends the current ban of evictions and foreclosures for those who are behind on their rent and mortgage payments, and provides most Americans with another round of direct stimulus payments — there is still so much more that Congress needs to do to help our communities,” she said in a statement.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet was disappointed that the aid package did not include his RESTART Act for long term help for businesses, but said he supported the bill because it did include other priorities, including individual direct payments, support for small businesses and help for the unemployed.
“We should not have waited seven months to act while families, frontline workers, and small businesses faced severe hardship through no fault of their own,” he said in a statement. “This is an important step but it's not the end of our responsibility.”
The bill focused on many issues where there was consensus in Congress. It includes:
- $300 a week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits through March 11
- $68 billion to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccine
- $25 billion in rental assistance and will extend the eviction moratorium until Jan. 31
- $13 billion in food assistance
- $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, with $15 billion reserved for live venues, theaters and cultural institutions
- $45 billion in Transportation Aid and $82 billion for schools.
It also includes direct payments, like the CARES Act provides, albeit at a lower amount — $600 per person for individuals making $75,000 or less.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow took to the House floor Monday in support of the bill, which he described as “imperfect,” but “will provide immediate relief for millions and families and small businesses who simply can't wait any longer.”
Pointing to his district, home to many refugees and immigrants, Crow said he was glad to get help for mixed-status families (Where one half of a couple is an American citizen and the other is not). With the CARES Act, even the American citizens in those families were excluded from individual payments .
Colorado’s three Republican representatives stood together in voting against the bill.
“Instead of doing the right thing by offering a lifeline to working Americans with targeted relief, Congress has resorted to strapping our future generations with an insurmountable amount of debt,” Buck said in a statement, which highlighted programs included in the overall government funding portion of the bill, such as money for Smithsonian museums and energy policies, that were not actually provisions of the coronavirus relief bill.
Buck said he would have supported “targeted relief to help small businesses and individuals who need it most, and a plan to distribute the vaccine to the most vulnerable, but this bill clearly misses the mark.”
The Weld County Republican is one of the few House members to have voted against every one of this year’s COVID-19 relief bills, highlighting the cost each time. He did vote for a bill that modified the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program, but did not add additional funding to the program. Buck’s spokesperson pointed out that he supported the president’s initial $2.5 billion stimulus request in February, a proposal that Congress increased to almost $8 billion and that he ultimately voted against.
Colorado Springs-area GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn also cited the overly broad relief package as one reason he voted against the bill. Lamborn did vote for the first part of the budget bill that included Defense and Homeland Security funding.
“This legislation includes a $300 weekly federal supplemental unemployment benefit that will unfortunately make one half of Americans receive more by staying home than if they went back to their jobs,” Lamborn said in a statement. He also criticized the $600 direct payment, saying it should be focused on those who need help the most.
Even as some Republicans question the need for additional coronavirus relief, many Democrats are looking ahead to additional help once the White House changes hands in January, calling this aid package a downpayment on future help to come.
“I’m hopeful under a new Biden administration we’ll take further steps in providing relief for state and local governments which were left out due to irrational claims by Congressional Republicans,” said Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter.
Boulder-area Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse said, “In the new year, I hope to see the Senate and the House return to the negotiating table on another package that fully meets the needs of all Americans.”
During much of the later half of 2020, Congress and the White House could not come to agreement on a deal, instead pointing fingers at who was to blame for the impasse. Even this COVID-19 package, which focused on areas of agreement, saw negotiations drag on for a couple of weeks — despite the looming pressure of the Christmas holiday and a possible government shutdown.
It’s unclear how additional relief would make it through Congress next year, especially as it is likely to remain divided, with a Republican-controlled Senate, under the Biden administration.
One issue that did get bipartisan agreement in both chambers was the short amount of time legislators had to review the 5,593 page bill. Lawmakers of both parties complained they were given just hours to look over the budget and COVID relief package before both chambers voted to pass the measure.