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WASHINGTON — Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District opposed a massive $3 trillion coronavirus response bill as his fellow House Democrats toward passage Friday that will set up a long, difficult election-year negotiation with the White House and Senate Republicans.
The measure would cost more than the prior four coronavirus stimulus bills combined, delivering almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 payments to most individuals, plus help for housing payments, the Postal Service and holders of college debt.
The bill was likely to pass the House but sure to go nowhere in the Senate, where Republican leaders have urged a “pause” to assess prior efforts and have scheduled votes on federal judicial nominees next week as the party sorts through differences between conservatives and moderates, particularly over aid to state and local governments.
“Not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way, it is irresponsible because it’s only going to cost more,” warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “More in terms of lives, livelihood, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.”
The White House promised a veto of Friday’s legislation, a symbolic move because the Senate’s opposition assures it will never reach Trump as Republicans wait for signals from the president on what he will support.
“Phase Four is going to happen,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, using Washington insider-speak for the measure. “But it’s going to happen in a much better way for the American people.”
Democrats in vulnerable districts including Golden, a freshman who narrowly carried a Republican-leaning district in 2018, announced their opposition to the measure ahead of the vote. In a statement, Golden blamed party leaders for “expanding the scope of the legislation beyond core, urgent needs and insisting on the inclusion of a series of unrelated provisions.”
“Together we can prevail, but only if we leave our partisan corners, put the country first, and work together to address this crisis,” he said. “Today’s bill achieves none of those things, which is why I will not support it.”
Maine’s other Democratic representative, Chellie Pingree of the 1st District, backed the measure in a Friday video, saying she was “proud of this bill.” The measure amounted to Democratic opening bid in upcoming negotiations with the White House and the Senate.
Previous talks were often bitterly partisan even as they produced compromises that passed by sweeping, even unanimous votes. Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are insisting the next measure should protect reopening businesses from liability lawsuits.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are setting priorities like aid for student borrowers, almost $1 trillion for state and local governments confronting layoffs and service cuts, and money to help people make rent and mortgage payments and pay their utility bills.
Lawmakers have already negotiated four bipartisan efforts to pump almost $3 trillion into the economy, but the consensus that drove those efforts is crumbling quickly. Polls show GOP voters are satisfied with the federal response so far and are not agitating for more. Self-branded deficit hawks are citing a massive increase in the spiraling $25 trillion national debt.
The Congressional Budget Office didn’t have time to estimate the cost of Friday’s measure, which Pelosi’s office could only characterize as “more than $3 trillion.” Other offices said the total would breach $3.5 trillion or more. But a partial estimate of tax provisions alone revealed eye-popping costs — $412 billion to renew $1,200 cash payments to individuals, more than $100 billion to pay COBRA health insurance premiums for the unemployed, and $164 billion to make an “employee retention” tax credit for businesses more generous.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.