What Happens When Congress Legislates in a Hurry

Let’s agree that legislating in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is not easy. 

Congress is negotiating and passing legislation in record time. What usually takes weeks and months is now being done in a matter of days. Negotiations on Capitol Hill are changing by the hour. 

The House passed H.R. 6021, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act Saturday morning at 12:53am by a vote of 363-40.  

This legislation is also known as “COVID-2” because it is the second bill passed by Congress to address the pandemic.  

Four days later, the Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 90-8. The Senate “hotlined” the House-passed bill for fast passage. The 8 Senators who voted no were Republicans and include:

  • Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Senator James Lankford (R-OK)
  • Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
  • Senator Rand Paul R-(KY)
  • Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE)
  • Senator Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

The bill now goes to President Trump to be signed into law. The Senate was eager to act because the virus could soon prevent the chamber from working.

Nothing happens in Washington in four days.  

In the interim between the House and Senate votes, the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 outbreak took center stage following the worst single-day drop in US equities since 1987. Despite Senate Republican opposition to the paid sick leave provisions in the House bill, passage was imminent given the dire economic consequences facing the country.

With legislation moving through the legislative process so quickly, little noticed provisions are now getting more attention.

One of the big surprises is that the paid sick leave provisions apply only to employers with 500 or less employees. Thus, large employers do not have to comply.

For employers with 50 or less, they can seek hardship exemption from the mandate.

Lawmakers are facing scrutiny for cutting a deal that doesn’t apply to large employers.

Usually there are no “do-overs” in Congress. If Congress gets a “do-over” or there are provisions that need to be fixed, it is usually called a technical corrections bill. A technical corrections bill fixes drafting errors. 

So never fear, the House got a “do-over” because a provision agreed to by Democrats and Republicans providing cash up front for the paid sick leave provisions instead of taking tax credits to compensate for paid leave was left out of the bill.   

The House passed the legislation a second time by unanimous consent.  President Trump has signed the bill into law.

Text of H.R. 6201/COVID-2: Public Law 116-127.pdf

Summary of H.R. 6201/COVID-2: Public Law 116-127 Summary

Further Stimulus Measures Already Being Drafted

Simultaneous to the passage of The Families First Coronavirus Act/COVID-2, the Senate and the White House are working on a third COVID economic stimulus package. There is clearly a sense of urgency that something needs to be done quick, and whatever package they ultimately bring forward will be referred to as “COVID-3.”  

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is leading the negotiation COVID-3 aid bill which will be an economic stimulus bill to address the economic downturn. The bill will inject approximately $1 trillion into the economy and aid industries such as hotels, airlines, and other directly impacted by business closures. 

One key component that all parties agree will be in the final package is direct cash payments to Americans. The amounts are being negotiated. 

We await further details on the final details of the bill and do not have a timeframe for conclusion of these negotiations. 

Negotiations are fluid at the moment.

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