On March 27, the House of Representatives approved, and President Donald Trump signed, the CARES Act into law. This is the third piece of legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic and follows enactment of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and a Coronavirus Preparedness and the Response Supplemental Appropriations Act earlier this month.
Although the ordinary bustle in the Capitol has ceased, the usual Washington D.C. political drama emerged just before passage of the bill. Given the importance of the CARES Act, the bill was certain to pass, and House leadership had planned for members to approve the bill by voice vote. However, with a voice vote, any one member can call for a full recorded vote, and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) did just that. Massie forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) into a last-minute logistical scramble as they summoned their colleagues from across the country back to Washington, D.C. and onto to the House floor (while maintaining social distancing as much as possible). Once a majority was present, Massie’s request was shut down without needing to conduct a full vote.
The ink from President Trump has barely even dried on “Phase III” and there is already speculation that Congress will work on a “Phase IV” and potentially a “Phase V”. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) began signaling to the House Democratic Caucus this week that additional economic relief and emergency supplemental funding is likely in the coming weeks after enactment of the CARES Act. With more focus on the impact of the coronavirus on small businesses, future legislation may focus on Small Business Administration loan modifications and the expansion of family and medical leave. Republicans currently appear focused on ensuring implementation of the “Phase III” package, but Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not ruled out future legislation.
A jobs component could also emerge as part of future legislation in the face of rising unemployment numbers. Additionally, Democratic lawmakers have consistently pushed for emergency health and safety regulations to protect first responders and expanded Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. These Democratic priorities were largely omitted from prior COVID-19 legislative responses to date.
With both chambers now officially in recess, we expect some quiet on the legislative front. How long that quiet will last remains to be seen and is likely dependent on the speed at which the nation “flattens the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SFA will continue to monitor all developments from Capitol Hill.