By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Armed with hand sanitizer and discouraged from using elevators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives aimed to quickly pass a sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday, though it was unclear if they would be forced to delay a day.
Leadership of the Democratic-controlled chamber and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods the chamber has, and pass it on to Republican President Donald Trump for his signature.
There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than in a formal call recording how each House member voted, which could delay the vote until Saturday.
The Capitol has laid out special procedures because of the coronavirus to minimize the threat of infection. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.
While most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, several are expected to travel to Washington for a vote around 11 a.m. EDT(1500 GMT).
On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package the Republican-led Senate backed by a unanimous 96-0 vote on Wednesday night.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped craft the package, also urged lawmakers to pass it quickly.
“This is the time that we want to see the government and that states all come together and execute on the largest financial package in the history of time,” he said on Fox Business Network.
The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law.
The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.
The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.
VOICE VOTE SOUGHT
The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.
Pelosi said House leaders were planning to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, lawmakers might be able to vote remotely as not all would be able to be in Washington.
It was unclear whether Massie would block the measure.
“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.
Democratic Representative Dean Phillips asked Massie on Twitter to let his colleagues know if he intended to delay the bill’s passage “RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend about $200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt.”
The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.
The Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; writing by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; editing by Lincoln Feast.)