In a conference call with rank-and-file Republicans on Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told lawmakers the House could soon be taking up a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency spending package sent by the Senate.
But rather than debating and voting on the largest federal bailout in history, lawmakers will likely be asked to allow a single Democratic lawmaker to voice vote the legislation, which would clear it for President Trump’s immediate signature without risking further threat of spreading the coronavirus.
The Senate was hoping to strike a bipartisan deal by late Tuesday and vote as soon as Wednesday before sending the measure to the House.
The House can pass a measure in seconds using unanimous consent. But a single lawmaker can block such agreements.
While the House routinely passes noncontroversial legislation by unanimous consent, it’s rarely used for major legislation, in part because there are 435 House lawmakers and several factions within each party, making unity difficult even when leaders in both parties agree.
House leaders spoke by phone to their respective caucus members Tuesday and said unanimous consent would be the best way to pass the measure because it would spare lawmakers from having to travel back to the Capitol and risk further spread of the coronavirus.
“Everyone prefers that option,” a top Democratic aide told the Washington Examiner.
Two lawmakers reported they are infected with the coronavirus, and dozens more have been in self-quarantine following exposure to others who have contracted the coronavirus. Many House lawmakers are over the age of 60, which is considered the group most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Deborah Birx, who is helping to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, advised Tuesday that anyone leaving New York City should self-quarantine for 14 days. More than a dozen House lawmakers represent districts in the city, and many are likely home because the House is adjourned for a district work period.
Democrats are far more likely to agree to voice voting a bill than Republicans.
Democrats control the majority, and while there would likely be objections within the caucus from the liberal wing, the massive price tag and inclusion of last-minute wish list items added by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, make it more likely Democrats will ultimately agree not to block passage.
But many conservative Republicans hate big spending bills and in the past have stood in the way of unanimous consent passage of even smaller, critical spending measures.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, was the first in a string of Republican lawmakers last May to block voice vote passage of a $19.1 billion disaster aid package for Texas and other states hard hit by natural disasters. Lawmakers hoped to clear the bill for President Trump’s signature, but despite strong support from Trump, Republicans in succession blocked the bill, arguing it added to the national debt and excluded border security funding. The House could not pass the measure until lawmakers returned from recess and took a roll call vote.
The current measure includes no offsets.
Republicans know it will be tough to convince their fiscal conservatives to allow the massive economic relief measure to pass by voice vote, even though Trump has urged it is desperately needed to aid small businesses, workers, healthcare facilities, and companies hit hard by the economic slowdown.
Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, told lawmakers Tuesday that GOP leaders are setting up a “remote whip operation” to determine whether they can get agreement, meaning they would have to quash any objections likely to come from one of their fiscal-conservative lawmakers.
Scalise emphasized “that the health and safety of members is a top priority when thinking through the mechanics of voting on this bill, and noted that our whip count for this bill will be critical in determining whether it is possible to pass this bill by voice vote,” a Republican aide said.
The Republican aide said GOP lawmakers blocking the bill “is a very real possibility that we recognize.”
House Republicans will probably get some help from Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who was selected by Trump to serve as his next White House chief of staff. Meadows is helping to negotiate the deal and met Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Schumer to try to finalize a bipartisan accord in the Senate.
Meadows is a founding member and longtime chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, whose members typically oppose big spending bills. Meadows in the past has helped bridge disagreements with Freedom Caucus members and leaders to help pass legislation.
The bill was initially drafted by the GOP Senate majority and includes many Republican priorities, such as $350 billion for small businesses and $500 billion in loans to help big companies stay afloat and keep workers employed. Direct cash payments and unemployment insurance are the other major components of the bill.
“Strong Republican support for the bill is evident at this point,” the GOP aide said.
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