Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers watched from Spokane on Friday as Congress passed its largest relief bill in history, a $2 trillion package intended to boost businesses and provide assistance for out-of-work Americans as the novel coronavirus continues to spread through the country.
“I was prepared to go, if it was going to be required,” McMorris Rodgers said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
In the end, the House voted through a procedure that did not require all lawmakers to be present in the chamber. There had been some speculation late Thursday that at least one member, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, would ask for a recorded vote, which would have delayed passage of the bill. President Donald Trump targeted Massie on Twitter, calling for the Republican party to oust him should he derail the package.
Trump signed the bill into law quickly Friday afternoon.
McMorris Rodgers called the bill “important to provide immediate relief” to a country that has seen jobless claims skyrocket and hospitals gird for an expected influx of sick patients. She also said the assistance was “not a bailout” to businesses, differentiating Congress’s approach to helping amid the pandemic to actions taken 12 years ago after the pop of the housing bubble plunged the nation into a long-lasting recession.
“A big part of the goal was to help small businesses, who through no fault of their own, who did nothing wrong, have had to close down,” McMorris Rodgers said.
In a separate phone call with reporters, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray also emphasized the bill’s assistance for shuttered restaurants, retailers and other small businesses deemed non-essential in a state order to close. Her office said $350 billion in the package had been designated for loans, guarantees and forgiveness, with an additional $10 billion in the form of grants to cover operating costs.
Murray said Congress needed to direct its attention to the next round of assistance, particularly expanding requirements for paid sick leave for families. That would allow parents who fall ill, or who have sick children, to choose not to go to work to ensure they keep getting paychecks, she said.
“We’re not going to stop the spread of this until we can make that clear,” Murray said. “That’s something I think is important.”
McMorris Rodgers said there would likely be additional measures the government needs to take, but said those needs may not be clear as widespread stay-home orders continue to be made and more industries face tough choices about their workers and operations.
“We are managing a process,” she said. “This is not a single event that happened on a single day.”
Major provisions in the bill for out-of-work people across the country, a number that is climbing nationwide and regionally, is expansion of funds for state unemployment benefits, as well as direct payments of up to $1,200 to American taxpayers.
McMorris Rodgers said she believed it was important for people to file their taxes in order to ensure timely receipt of that benefit, even though the Treasury Department announced last week it would extend the deadline to July 15 for individual taxpayers to file returns.
“My understanding is that they should file their taxes as soon as possible,” the congresswoman said. “That’s the way that that payment will be expedited.”
Filing tax returns is the quickest way to receive the assistance, Murray also said. But for those that don’t file returns, including some military veterans and other low-income filers, the IRS will have to work quickly to get applications online, she said.
“For those folks who don’t normally file a tax return … they will qualify, but they will have to apply through the IRS,” Murray said. She urged such filers to reach out to her office and to visit IRS.gov for information.
Murray said she believed a next piece of legislation would still need to address a lack of access to testing supplies and other medical equipment, which she continues to hear from people fighting the pandemic in Washington state. She said the legislation that passed Congress had strong oversight provisions on the Trump administration, who she said had “dropped the ball too many times” for lawmakers to allocate $2 trillion with no strings.
“It’s also critical that we understand why the early mistakes happened on testing, so they never happen again,” Murray said.
Some groups continued to criticize a provision in the bill that sets aside $500 billion to back loans through the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a measure backed by Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho. Critics say the bill didn’t go far enough to prevent loans from being given to profitable corporations and bad actors.
McMorris Rodgers said she’d been in almost daily contact with other legislators in the Washington delegation, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, on needs in the state. For rural areas, that includes access to broadband internet in schools, food assistance and supporting critical access hospitals who are also experiencing changes in care due to shifts in the health care industry to treat a suspected influx of patients.
The congresswoman praised regional leaders for their response to the virus outbreak, noting that life for many in the Inland Northwest had been upended.
“I just think we’ve done a really great job coming together as a community,” McMorris Rodgers said. “We’re keeping the lines of communication open, so that everyone knows what the needs are.”