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Michigan reps support $2T stimulus for coronavirus relief; state gets $3.8B

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Bipartisan Michigan lawmakers supported the passage of the $2 trillion economic rescue package in response to the coronavirus crisis ahead of the House's voice vote Friday sending the bill to President Donald Trump's desk. 

Under the bill, Michigan would receive an estimated $3.8 billion to help stem the pandemic, including $351 million for public transit systems, nearly $74 million for emergency housing grants and $11 million for election assistance, lawmakers said.

They said the package would provide badly needed income for out-of-work Americans and a "critical lifeline” to struggling businesses, as U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell put it during debate. 

“This bill is certainly not perfect,” said Mitchell, a Dryden Republican.

Members of the House practice social distancing as they sit on the floor and in the public gallery above during debate on the coronavirus stimulus package on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday.

“However, we cannot delay. We cannot waver. We must ensure this aid is delivered to the American people as soon as possible. The American people are looking to us to lead at this moment and we must do so now.”

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Holly Democrat, praised health care workers who are "running toward the crisis" as first responders did after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

"They are on the front lines: Our supermarket workers, our truck drivers, our border agents and TSA agents," Slotkin said. 

"Right now, we are sending them into the fight without the gear that they need. We owe them our passion, we owe them to work together Democrats and Republicans, and above all we owe them a plan."

The U.S. Senate passed the historic package unanimously earlier this week by a 96-0 vote. It includes an expansion of unemployment benefits, funding for hospitals and medical supplies, forgivable loans for small businesses and direct cash payments to American families. 

A handful of Michigan members stood to speak during Friday's debate after several rushed back to Washington in the last 24 hours, some driving into the wee hours of the morning. 

House members had expected the chamber to pass the legislation under "unanimous consent" — a parliamentary procedure that wouldn't require a quorum of 218members present.

This was considered a safer option to protect vulnerable members from traveling back to Washington and potentially being exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Then word came Thursday that Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian Republican, or another lawmaker who opposed to the package could object and force a roll-call vote. Massie did so, but was overridden. 

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, targeted his floor speech at Massie. He said coronavirus has "totally disrupted" lives in every community and around the world and that the legislation is a partial response to end that disruption.

"So to you who oppose this bill, please, please stand down," said Upton, Michigan's most senior House member. "We can't wait another day to help. Don't add to this disruption by, in fact, being a disrupter. Be a leader."

Trump, who supports the package, called Massie a "third rate grandstander."

"He just wants the publicity. He can’t stop it, only delay, which is both dangerous....and costly," Trump tweeted.

"Workers & small businesses need money now in order to survive. Virus wasn’t their fault. It is 'HELL' dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the 'big picture' done. 90% GREAT! WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!"

Rep. Justin Amash, who is independent of both parties, has slammed the measure because of its $500 billion fund intended to help distressed industries. But Amash said this week he did not intend to object. 

Amash, a former Republican who represents the Grand Rapids area, called the fund "corporate welfare" and cronyism that would benefit a few large companies "hand-picked by government."

He'd rather see more cash transferred directly to U.S. families for three or more months until the virus abates. 

"This bipartisan deal is a raw deal for the people. It does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare, massively growing government, inhibiting economic adaptation, and widening the gap between the rich and the poor," Amash wrote on Twitter. 

"Only the Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference can decide the outcome. If they have majorities to pass it, then objecting to unanimous consent merely delays the inevitable. I won’t do that. But members MUST BE REQUIRED to go on the record with how they would have voted."

Senate Democrats had held up the legislation earlier in the week in part over provisions related to the aid for corporations, insisting on limits on stock buybacks, executive compensation and the disclosure of which companies receive help. 

Amash did not participate in Friday's debate but was spotted observing from a back row of the House gallery, according to someone inside the chamber. 

The proceedings were briefly disrupted when Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, ran out of the time she was allotted to speak and shouted to be heard over the gavel after her microphone was cut off. 

“I rise before you adorning these latex gloves not for personal attention, not for personal attention but to encourage you to take this disease seriously," said Stevens, who donned pink protective gloves. "I rise for every American who is scared right now."

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said there's stuff in the bill that Democrats don't like, but it "takes major steps to support American workers and families during this unprecedented time."

"We have differences about this bill," said Kildee, chief deputy whip for House Democrats.

"But this moves us forward this gives the American people, the support they need in order to follow the medical advice that they are given without putting their families at risk." 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, also didn't agree with all of the bill's provisions but "the vast majority of it will work directly to provide relief to the people who need it most." 

"Communities across the nation expect this body to act today," he said. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said she wants to ensure the next coronavirus relief package incorporates financial aid for local governments responding to the crisis.

She supports stronger requirements for the Federal Reserve to purchase municipal debt to free up cash-strapped cities, and also wants Congress to prohibit water shut-offs by utilities at a time when hand washing is at the top of the list for ways to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

Only one member of the delegation, Rep. Debbie Dingell, didn't return to Washington for Friday's vote. 

Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, said she remained in Michigan because a member of her staff had symptoms including a fever and has been awaiting test results for nine days.

“Out of an abundance of caution and respect for other people, and because I do not appear to be needed for today’s vote, I am staying home as the governor said,” Dingell wrote Friday on Facebook.

“I would vote for this bill. We need to get it done. We need to start working on the next one now and get what isn’t in there for people. But we need to give people hope and help. This bill does that.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed