This week, Congress approved a $900 billion stimulus package and funded the federal government through September as part of $1.4 trillion bill with the support of most of the Florida delegation.
At almost 5,600 pages–the longest bill in congressional history–the legislation adds a temporary $300 jobless benefit, sends more than $80 billion to boost higher education and adds $284 billion for another round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Also included is another direct payment to Americans with individuals making up to $75,000 annually as of 2019 getting $600, couples making up to $150,000 getting $1,200 and getting $600 per dependent child.
On Monday, the U.S. House passed the package in two votes. The first measure cleared the House on a 327-85 vote as 41 Democrats, 43 Republicans and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., opposed it. Most members of the Florida delegation backed the measure though Republicans U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, Bill Posey and Greg Steube voted against it. Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn, Ross Spano, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho were among the 18 members of the House who did not vote on the measure. The House also passed a second bill, which contained the $900 billion package, on a 359-53 vote as 50 Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Posey and Steube, two Democrats and Amash voted against it and seventeen members–including, once again, Dunn, Spano, Webster and Yoho, did note vote.
The U.S. Senate passed its single measure on a 92-6 vote with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., backing it and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., opposing it.
Scott came out swinging at the bill on Monday.
“Early this afternoon, we were finally provided the text of the combined $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and $900 billion COVID relief bill. It is almost 5,600 pages long and we’re expected to vote on it tonight. Who in their right mind thinks that this a responsible way of governing?” Scott asked. “This crisis has devastated American small businesses and American workers and I support many of the COVID-related provisions to boost small businesses, prevent further layoffs and enhance unemployment assistance – provisions that are necessary because of the recklessness of the Chinese Communist Party and the overzealous shutdowns by politicians here in America who do not know what it is like to struggle for money or for work. I’m also glad this package does not include state bailouts, which I’ve been fighting for months, and makes reforms to the Federal Reserve, which provides further protections to ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
“But, in classic Washington style, vital programs are being attached to an omnibus spending bill that mortgages our children and grandchildren’s futures without even giving members a chance to read it,” Scott added. We are not spending money we have in the bank or anticipate we will collect in taxes. Washington doesn’t seem to understand that new spending today will be paid for by increased federal debt and result in a tax increase on families down the road. We have to stop operating this way; there is no excuse for the way Washington treats the American taxpayers. I’ve repeatedly voted against enormous and wasteful spending bills. The easy route is simply to go along as Congress continues to do harm to future generations of Americans, but I will not be a part of it.”
Rubio, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee, supported the measure, thanks in large part to its additions to PPP.
“To all of the small business owners who have worked hard to make ends meet and to all the employees left in limbo: help is finally on the way,” Rubio said. “The Paycheck Protection Program was the single most effective relief program passed by Congress, and I am proud that this legislation will provide enough funds for a second round of PPP and additional relief measures to help the hardest-hit and underserved small businesses weather the second, and hopefully last, wave.
“Importantly, this package includes targeted assistance to aid restaurants and live venues who have been devastated by the impacts of the pandemic and state and local lockdowns,” Rubio continued. “Even though the days of 2020 are numbered and the vaccine distribution is beginning, we know that the economic devastation of the pandemic is ongoing and will continue into the new year. That is why I have been urging Democratic congressional leadership to pass bipartisan small business relief since the summer. I appreciated working with my colleagues, Ranking Member Cardin, Chairwoman Velázquez, and Ranking Member Chabot on this bipartisan, bicameral effort to save America’s small businesses.”
In his capacity as acting chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Rubio also praised the Senate bill including the “Intelligence Authorization Act.”
“Recent events make it all too clear that our nation continues to face ever-expanding threats from hostile foreign actors, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” Rubio said. “It is vital that our intelligence community has the necessary resources, authorities, and personnel to protect America’s national security, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s strong, bipartisan legislation does just that. Our bill also increases government efficiency and represents comprehensive congressional oversight to ensure that these tools are executed responsibly and cost-effectively.”
Over in the House, members of the Florida delegation weighed in on passing the bills.
“At the outbreak of this pandemic, I promised you, my bosses, the people of Florida’s 13th District, that I would do what it took to help us get to the other side of this crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla. “Today I remain just as fervently committed to that promise. While this compromise could certainly do more to help struggling families and small businesses, it remains one of the largest relief packages in American history – second only to the CARES Act. I will continue to do whatever it takes to lift our community and nation out of this pandemic, and I will never stop fighting for you.”
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was glad to see the final package had his proposal to allow American citizens and legal permanent residents who are married to undocumented immigrants receive stimulus payments.
“As I have stated before, there is no reason to justify why a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident should be excluded from receiving a benefit meant for Americans simply due to the legal status of a spouse. I am thrilled to see that this provision was taken into consideration in this new COVID relief bill, and I look forward to seeing the great impact this will make in helping the American people,” Diaz-Balart said.
Despite Webster not voting on the legislation, the congressman’s office trumpeted the package as a “huge accomplishment and an all-around win for COVID-19 impacted Americans and all taxpayers.”
“After spending months playing political games and trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to push through their socialist agenda, last night Democrats finally caved and agreed to a COVID-19 relief bill that is not much different than proposals Republicans offered starting last summer,” Webster said. “While I am disappointed by the process and timeline that it took to get to this point, I am pleased it extends the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and allows small business owners to deduct PPP expenses. PPP has been a lifeline for countless small businesses and under this bill those still experiencing severe revenue reductions can apply for a second loan. It also includes money to get students back into the classroom and to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is available as soon as possible – to all who want it.
“As a result of these and many other good provisions, I support this critical legislation. In addition to providing targeted relief to those impacted most severely by COVID-19, the package includes robust funding for the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect and defend our great nation and our veterans receive the best care possible,” Webster added. “When government blocks an American’s ability to work and earn a living it government has a responsibility to provide assistance to these individuals. This targeted relief aids businesses and hardworking Americans still trying to recover from government required lockdowns. I remain frustrated that Congress continuously embraces the Washington presumption that nothing in the budget can be cut in order to fund priorities or critical assistance without increasing the deficit. I will continue to advocate for and work on behalf of Florida’s hardworking taxpayers and families to advance common-sense reforms and principled policy and budgets that get our fiscal house in order.”
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., also weighed in on her support of the legislation.
“Today’s COVID relief deal is long-overdue and much-needed. Americans are desperate for financial assistance, and hospitals and communities need immediate support. We have been fighting for additional COVID relief since March, only to see it delayed and reduced over and over by the Senate. $600 per American is important, but it won’t cover rent or other major expenses. I am voting for this relief in the hopes that it can provide a short-term aid to struggling Americans, but I strongly believe that we must do more, and soon,” Demings said.
“Since last spring, House Democrats have offered multiple deals and compromises to get more assistance into the bank accounts of struggling families and small businesses. Our efforts have been denied at every turn, and the American people have paid the costs. Even in recent weeks, multiple bipartisan deals were torpedoed by Senate Republicans seeking to undermine President-Elect Biden’s work to help our economy recover. It is impossible to justify why our Republican colleagues refused over and over to give help to people in crisis. As we move into the new year, I pray that they will remember why they are here: to help people, especially during times of crisis,” she added.
“There are a lot of really good things that will help the American people. The only sad news is that it’s long overdue. While the deal took too long and it’s far from perfect, it sends immediate help to families and businesses who can’t wait any longer, and it keeps our government open. We can’t afford to shut down our government in the midst of a pandemic,” U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said about the package on MSNBC this week.
Gaetz explained why he voted for one bill and against the other.
“Democrats quietly acknowledged the outlandish provisions in their omnibus legislation tonight by splitting their original legislation into two separate votes. I voted ‘yes’ on the half of the bill which funds our military and provides a pay raise for the brave men and women who serve America. I voted ‘no’ on the second half of the spending bill, which provides windfalls to corporate special interests, while simultaneously shortchanging American citizens,” Gaetz said.
“While the Defense/Homeland Security/CJS/FSGG bill is not perfect, it provides crucial support for our servicemembers, and it gives America’s armed forces the tools they need to succeed, both now and in the future. It also did not place arbitrary and unfair limits on the president’s authority to withdraw troops — and to draw down endless, unconstitutional wars,” he added. “The other half of the Democrats’ bill, however, denies a simple truth — no amount of government-sponsored generational theft will do our people better than an open economy. It continues to subsidize the heartless, reactionary lockdown ideology of Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer’s political allies.
“America’s struggling workers should be prioritized over gender-specific programs in Pakistan or anti-narcotics programs in Bruma, or money for Ukraine (all of which are funded in this bill). It doubles down on many failed Democrat policies, giving special interests billions of dollars in perks, while giving our fellow Americans a paltry payment of only $600. America deserves better than this swamp sludge,” Gaetz said in conclusion.
Posey, who opposed both measures, also weighed in on Monday.
“Tonight, the House considered two bills comprising over 5,500 pages of spending totaling $2.3 trillion, all of which was made public just four hours before the 1.1 million word bill was put to a vote on the House floor with little time to read the legislation. Congressional leaders put off what could have been done months earlier, instead waiting until the eleventh hour to bring forward important legislation to fund our government and provide economic relief that was saddled with thousands of pages in unrelated legislation. I’m pleased that there are some very good provisions in the bills – including provisions I have voted for previous COVID relief bills – like the approval of additional relief to those suffering the economic and health effects of COVID, as well as the additional unemployment benefits,” Posey said.
“However, the real process of negotiating this legislation should have taken place long ago on the House floor through spirited, transparent debate and votes on amendments from both sides of the aisle, not written behind closed doors by a handful of people. We must end the practice that allows a small number of people in a back room to rewrite the laws of this nation and spend trillions of dollars with no transparency or oversight,” he added.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.