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Economic aid package clears Congress, despite last-minute drama

A week ago, Mitch McConnell presented an awful economic aid package. Today, a vastly better alternative is poised to become law.
House Convenes To Vote On $2 Trillion Stimulus
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives to the U.S. Capitol on March 27, 2020.Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty Images

It took a little longer than it was supposed to, but the U.S. House this afternoon approved a $2.2 trillion economic aid package, two days after the same bill cleared the U.S. Senate unanimously. The legislation now heads to the White House for Donald Trump's signature, and the president has made clear he's eager to sign it into law.

The developments on Capitol Hill were, however, a little more dramatic than originally planned.

The House vote Friday came after Democratic and Republican leaders summoned House members to Washington late Thursday because they feared the package wouldn't be able to pass by voice vote, causing lawmakers to scramble back to the capital from their districts. Congressional leaders wanted to avoid bringing members back to Washington, prompting Democratic leadership to plan for a voice vote that could be done without lawmakers returning. There was speculation, however, that Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., might demand a roll-call vote.

The Kentucky Republican did, in fact, follow through on his threat. After a floor debate that lasted a few hours, Massie sought a recorded vote. It was not seconded. The congressman questioned whether a quorum -- in this case, 216 members -- was present in the chamber, at which point the chair disagreed, denied his request, and held a voice vote. Not surprisingly, it passed overwhelmingly.

There doesn't appear to have been any real point to Massie's self-aggrandizing stunt, though he did manage to draw the ire of practically everyone in D.C. today -- including the president, who said he wants Massie thrown out of the party. It's rare to see Democrats and Republicans furious with the same person, at the same time, for the same reason, but somehow, the Kentuckian found a way.

As the dust settles, it's worth pausing to look past the drama and acknowledge the fact that this bill is likely to do a lot of good for a lot of people. It's not perfect, but with the national economy effectively frozen, this economic rescue package will put money in millions of Americans' pockets -- most notably those who've lost their jobs. (All officials have to do is figure out how to get the money out the door quickly.)

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum had an item yesterday I agreed with: "Is this ... a damn good effort that's going to help millions of ordinary Americans get through the crisis without being evicted, going bankrupt, or continuing to work in unsafe conditions? Oh yes indeed. Love 'em or hate 'em, this is good work from the Democratic Party. It's only because of the final form of this bill that we have a fighting chance of getting through the coronavirus pandemic without destroying the economy along the way."

Quite right. It may seem like ancient history, but a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled an economic aid package that was a mess. His Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, went to work and turned a bad bill into a good one.

There are plenty of worthwhile and detailed overviews of the legislation's main provisions, but by any fair measure, it's likely to do a significant amount of good, at least in the short-term. Will a "Phase IV" bill be necessary over the summer? Probably, yes. But in the meantime, today's progress matters.