House Set To Pass $2T Virus Bill As Pelosi Eyes Next Steps

By Dylan Moroses and Andrew Kragie
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Law360 (March 26, 2020, 2:17 PM EDT) -- The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Friday on $2 trillion legislation meant to help millions of American workers and businesses endure the coronavirus outbreak, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she wanted a fourth congressional coronavirus relief bill to specify "a better definition of who qualifies for family and medical leave." (AP)

The House will take a voice vote on H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the third measure directed at mitigating the economic downturn and health care crisis brought by the new coronavirus, Pelosi told reporters.

The legislation is intended to help millions of unemployed workers survive a public health crisis that has rapidly shuttered entire sectors of the American economy and pushed health care providers nearly to capacity while treating COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The bill would provide roughly $250 billion in direct payments to most Americans, help businesses meet payroll, prop up state and local relief efforts and even correct aspects of the 2017 tax law, according to a bill summary.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also told reporters he was confident that lawmakers will pass the bill Friday.

"We'll have a debate, and then we'll have a voice vote. I do not think there's a need for anything else," McCarthy said.

The nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation came out Thursday with an estimate of the budget impact: about $591 billion over the next decade.

Pelosi said she would recommend that lawmakers remain on call after the bill is sent to President Donald Trump's desk in case Congress must pass further legislation to address the coronavirus crisis. Pelosi, D-Calif., said a fourth bill should be developed by the leaders of the House and Senate in unison, not by one chamber exclusively.

Pelosi said she would want a fourth bill to include "a better definition of who qualifies for family and medical leave" along with more stringent Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace standards, presumably to cover health care workers on the front lines, a goal of Senate Democrats.

Coronavirus patients should also receive free medical care in addition to the free testing provided by a previous relief package, she said.

"We said free testing, free testing, free testing," Pelosi said. "But with free testing is the visit to the doctor's office and the treatment that goes with it, and that has to be free as well, so that we encourage people to be tested, [so that] they're not fearing the test because they can't afford the treatment. This is all a public health issue."

She said she did not want patients to face high co-pays or deductibles, suggesting Democrats would want to exempt coronavirus-related health care from any cost sharing.

The fourth package should also provide more money for food stamps, more help for state and local governments and perhaps additional direct payments to Americans, Pelosi said. Democrats also want to address pensions, Pelosi said, though she did not give details.

A short time later, McCarthy said talk of a fourth relief bill should wait until previously passed legislation can take effect.

"I wouldn't be so quick to say you have to write something else. Let's let this bill work," McCarthy said. "If something's needed in the future, let's make that decision. But let's not make that decision without letting this bill be put into the economy."

Pelosi unveiled legislation on Monday reflecting her party's priorities in addressing the coronavirus, which included several additional tax provisions not in H.R. 748.

For example, under Pelosi's bill, hospitals would receive payroll tax credits to offset the cost of equipment they acquire as well as the charity care they provide to patients suffering from the virus. The earned income tax credit would also be expanded to childless workers, and the credit would be permanently expanded to Puerto Rico. Pelosi's legislation would also double the value of the child tax credit and expand it to Puerto Rico.

Late Wednesday, Senate lawmakers voted 96 to zero to approve H.R. 748.

Under the bill, the Internal Revenue Service would send $1,200 to individuals and $2,400 to couples filing joint tax returns. The payments would be reduced for those with incomes above $75,000, or $150,000 for couples, and would be eliminated for those with incomes of more than $99,000, or $198,000 for couples.

The measure would set aside $150 billion for states and localities whose tax revenues would be affected by moving the federal tax filing date from April 15 to July 15. The bill also includes $130 billion to help hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities weather the crisis, according to the summary.

The bill also allows for the appointment of an inspector general and a congressional oversight board to scrutinize grants and loans made by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to businesses to help address the impact of COVID-19, the summary shows.

The legislation would provide a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of employer wages for companies that were fully or partly prohibited from operating during the crisis. It would also waive the 10% early withdrawal penalty for retirement fund distributions up to $100,000 made on or after Jan. 1, 2020, and before Dec. 31, 2020.

Employers would be able to provide a tax-free student loan repayment benefit of as much as $5,250 annually toward an employee's student loans. The payments would not count as income.

The bill would limit corporate stock buybacks and executive pay for airlines that receive grants or loans from the federal government in order to stay afloat. It would also fix the so-called retail glitch by allowing retailers to immediately write off expenses related to physical improvements instead of depreciating them over 39 years.

The bill would also provide that businesses can carry back losses from 2018, 2019 and 2020 for up to five years. In addition, net operating losses temporarily would not be subject to a taxable income limit, which means they could fully offset income.

--Additional reporting by Stephen Cooper. Editing by Vincent Sherry. 

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