Washington • To expand resources to hospitals and health workers, lend a hand to small businesses, boost struggling corporations and flood the economy with cash, Rep. John Curtis remained seated.
The Utah Republican joined scores of his House colleagues on Friday to make their vote count in passing the largest piece of economic stimulus in U.S. history. And they did so by refusing to stand, derailing an effort by one colleague that could have delayed, or possibly doomed, a $2 trillion relief measure to help an America besieged by the coronavirus.
He couldn’t pull it off unless a number of his colleagues stood in support of his move. It didn’t happen. Butts in seats, it seems, saved the day.
“The best I could tell, no one else stood,” Curtis said Friday morning after he and a core group of members who flew or drove to Washington helped get the major bill over the finish line.
It wasn’t clear if a majority of members made the trek — one fraught with health concerns and transportation challenges — but the House ruled enough were present to make the voice vote count.
Curtis, who appears to be the only Utahn in Congress to vote on the measure, said he had reservations about the bill but it needed to pass without delay.
“I, like many, have reservations, probably two major ones,” Curtis said Friday. “One is we just don't have the money and so it's going to increase the deficit. Two, there are provisions in there that really don't have anything to do with the virus. And I think that's unfortunate. Both of those things, though, are overshadowed by the enormity of the problem and the need to find a bipartisan answer quickly.”
The bill, signed by President Donald Trump later Friday, marks the third round of legislation passed by Congress in recent weeks to address the impacts that have shuttered businesses and locked down communities amid a communicable disease that has sickened more than 100,000 Americans and killed more than 1,300, including two Utahns.
The stimulus package will mean a $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, $100 billion for hospitals and nearly $1 trillion in loans or guarantees to businesses, from small mom-and-pop stores to multi-national corporations.
Enhanced unemployment benefits would cover those who lost jobs because of the virus outbreak or were otherwise affected, including gig-economy jobs like Uber drivers, boosting those benefits to $600 a week for some 13 weeks. That’s on top of state unemployment payments.
States could share in billions in funding; Utah is expected to get at least $1.25 billion.
Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney are quarantining themselves after being exposed to Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has tested positive for COVID-19. So they did not vote when the Senate passed this earlier in the week.
Romney had expressed support for the bill — he was the first Republican to suggest a direct cash payment to Americans — while Lee has not said how he would have voted. His office did not respond to multiple requests on whether he supported the bill, though Lee touted the benefits in a tweet. Lee previously voted against another relief bill for coronavirus.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, remains hospitalized with COVID-19 for a week now and is “receiving oxygen treatment for shortness of breath and will stay until doctors release him to go home,” according to his office.
The Utah congressman, though, praised the passage of the relief bill.
“The bill certainly isn’t perfect, but the support it provides for working families, our frontline health care providers and Utah small businesses and their employees, is critically important,” McAdams said in a statement. “Coronavirus remains a danger to our lives and our livelihoods.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called the measure an “essential lifeline” to give Americans support and hope.
“This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history,” Stewart said in a statement. “We’re facing an invisible enemy that has affected every American in one way or another. Millions have lost their jobs and millions are worried about their health and livelihood. The provisions in this rescue package are imperative to helping families and small businesses survive the next few months.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican now running for lieutenant governor of Utah, did not respond to a question of whether he supported the measure. It is not clear if Stewart or Bishop was in Washington for the vote.
Trump, who signed the bill in the Oval Office surrounded by aides and fellow Republicans, noted the package was twice as big as any relief effort ever signed before.
“I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first,” Trump said.
Added Vice President Mike Pence: "Today, every American family, every American business can know that help is on the way."
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, ran into a major hurdle earlier Friday when Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., objected to approving the bill by a voice vote. His efforts to force a roll call vote fell flat when his colleagues remained seated instead of standing to support his effort.
Had he succeeded, at least 216 House members would have need to be present for the vote.
Curtis, who flew back to Washington to ensure the bill passed, sat in the GOP section of the House for the vote, seated several feet and a row away from any fellow members.
“It’s hard to walk five feet without seeing a hand-sanitizer station,” Curtis said. “Throughout the chamber, probably every 10 feet, they’ve got Clorox wipes. They don’t have us wearing gloves but obviously, they’re very cautious.”