- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2020

The House on Friday kicked off a long day of voting on the Democrats’ $3 trillion coronavirus spending bill while imposing social distancing measures that will spread the voting over hours.

The massive spending package, which includes an exhaustive Democratic wish-list of projects and policy, will be dead on arrival in the Republican-run Senate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it as her party’s opening bid in negotiations.

“The plan that we are voting on today will make a tremendous difference not only in the budgets of the states but in the lives of the American people: their public health, the education of our children, the sanitation so important to defeating the virus, with the support of so many essential workers,” the California Democrat wrote in a letter to her members Friday morning.

The House also is taking up a historic rule change to allow remote and proxy voting by members in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The proceedings Friday was a study in COVID-19 exposure management.

The chambers’ 430 members have been divided into six, alphabetically-sorted groups of about 70 to keep the lawmakers socially distanced on the House floor.

The House currently has five vacant seats.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, encouraged members to use electronic voting machines spaced throughout the chamber and stay in their offices until it’s their designated time to vote.

Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat, shared a photo of the packed plane he took to travel to Washington and expressed his concern about risking exposure to the deadly virus.

The House is also voting on a temporary rules resolution — which would radically change a more than 200-year-old tradition in the House — that will allow members unable to travel to Capitol Hill to cast their votes by designating another member to do it for them on the House floor.

Under the proposed rule, members would have to notify the House clerk in advance. Each proxy would have to receive written instructions from the non-attending member for how each vote is to be cast. A proxy voter would only be allowed to stand in for a maximum of 10 members.

For committees, chairs can decide whether to hold entire virtual or hybrid meetings where some members are physically present in Washington. Any virtual participants have to use software approved by the Chief Administrative Officer, but they will be allowed to vote on committee items.

The Democrats’ coronavirus spending bill provides more than $800 billion for state and local governments — a major priority for Democrats left out of the last bill, but an area of suspicion for Republicans.

Additionally, the bill expands access to voting by mail by saying states can’t impose additional requirements on otherwise eligible voters to cast an absentee ballot through the mail.

It also includes $175 billion for rent and mortgage subsidies and $25 billion in assistance for the struggling U.S. Post Office.

The bill eliminates for two years a $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, a prized benefit for generally higher-income residents in blue, high-tax states.

The massive Democrat-led package has received a wave of backlash from Republicans, and a few moderate Democrats, for being an unserious attempt and more of a messaging bill.

It is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is wary of another massive spending bill and instead focused on liability protections for small business owners and healthcare providers.

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