Iowa Democrats split on latest COVID-19 relief bill

The U.S. House on October 1 approved a new version of a coronavirus relief package. The 214 to 207 vote split mostly along party lines, but Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) was among eighteen Democrats to oppose the bill, along with all Republicans (roll call).

When the previous version of the so-called Heroes Act came before the House in May, Representative Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) joined Axne in voting no, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) supported the bill, as did most House Democrats. Today Finkenauer and Loebsack both voted with the majority of their caucus.

Statements from all three Iowa Democrats in Congress are after the jump. Republican Representative Steve King (IA-04) voted against the bill but didn’t post about it on his social media. His office has not put out a news release since a few days before King lost the June primary to State Senator Randy Feenstra.

The latest COVID-19 relief package contained about $2.2 trillion in spending. Mike Lillis and Scott Wong reported for The Hill,

The package features almost all of the initiatives included in the Democrats’ $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which passed the House in May, but on shorter time frames, which brought the overall cost down by more than a third.

It features almost $500 billion for state and local governments; a renewal of $600 weekly payments for unemployment benefits; another round of $1,200 checks for individuals; $75 billion for coronavirus testing; and billions of dollars more for schools, the Postal Service, food stamps, rental assistance and election security. It also contains emergency bailout funds for two industries hit hardest by the pandemic: airlines and restaurants.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but they do not appear to be close to a bipartisan deal. Emily Cochrane reported for the New York Times,

Republicans panned the latest relief bill as too large and at least 18 moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts objected to the lack of Republican support and argued that a vote should have waited until a bipartisan agreement was struck with the administration.

“It’s important for people to see that we completely identify with the concerns that they have, and how we have allocated the resources necessary to get the job done,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Axne’s statement emphasized the need to get a relief package signed into law, rather than sending yet another bill to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. Excerpts:

“Over the past two months, I repeatedly urged House leadership to bring up a simplified, straightforward COVID-19 aid package in order to meet the White House and Senate Republicans in the middle on a deal that could deliver critical assistance for Iowa’s families, businesses, and communities.

This move toward compromise has demonstrably renewed momentum for a deal, and we are closer than we have been in months, but the only thing that will deliver the help my constituents need is a bill that will actually become law.

As negotiations between our two sides continue, we need to give these discussions our full attention and support. Millions of Americans cannot afford for us to fail in this effort – we must continue to work towards an agreement and vote when we know we have a deal in hand.”

In contrast, Finkenauer and Loebsack highlighted the bill’s valuable provisions. From Finkenauer’s official comment:

“Although imperfect, this package includes the immediate relief our families need to pay rent and keep food on the table, and that our fire departments, community hospitals and small businesses need to continue serving Iowans.

“Among the many provisions included in this package that will provide direct, essential aid to Iowans, I’m especially glad to see an increase in the federal cost match for natural disasters – a step that will lower the local financial burden not only on the pandemic but also the ongoing derecho recovery facing communities across eastern Iowa.

“My vote today was a vote to put Iowa’s hard working families, small businesses, and frontline workers first over political games – I encourage the Senate and the White House to do the same.”

Finkenauer’s news release also included testimonials supporting the bill from well-known local figures, including Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart (a Republican), Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, and Marshalltown police chief Michael Tupper.

Earlier on October 1, King delivered a 50-minute speech on the House floor denouncing the “forces of the swamp” that in his view conspired with the media to create a “feeding frenzy” mischaracterizing his statements about white nationalism and white supremacy. His remarks begin around 1:59 of this CSPAN video.

Speaking of right-wing extremists, King was one of just five House members (all Republicans) who opposed a resolution expressing support for a peaceful transfer of power, which the House approved on September 29. He explained that vote on Twitter.


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October 1 news release from Representative Abby Finkenauer:

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) released the following statement regarding her vote on the HEROES 2.0 Act:

“While I remain hopeful that the Senate and the administration will come to the table and negotiate in good faith on a bipartisan coronavirus relief package, my constituents can no longer afford to wait. Today, I voted for the HEROES 2.0 Act to provide aid to the families and communities who need it.

“Although imperfect, this package includes the immediate relief our families need to pay rent and keep food on the table, and that our fire departments, community hospitals and small businesses need to continue serving Iowans.

“Among the many provisions included in this package that will provide direct, essential aid to Iowans, I’m especially glad to see an increase in the federal cost match for natural disasters – a step that will lower the local financial burden not only on the pandemic but also the ongoing derecho recovery facing communities across eastern Iowa.

“My vote today was a vote to put Iowa’s hard working families, small businesses, and frontline workers first over political games – I encourage the Senate and the White House to do the same.”

Reaction from First Congressional District:

“The HEROES 2.0 Act provides critical assistance to individuals and business owners to help local economies recover, and to local governments to continue to provide critical services. It is especially important for cities like Cedar Rapids, who have also experienced devastating natural disasters on top of dealing with a pandemic.”

— Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart

“Our locally owned businesses, community nonprofits and essential public safety services need help through this pandemic and the economic crisis caused by it — in fact, they’ve needed help for months. Passage of the HEROES 2.0 Act — which includes support for schools, first responders and our smallest small businesses as well as emergency safety standards for frontline workers — couldn’t come soon enough for the City of Waterloo. I commend Congresswoman Finkenauer for standing with our community and supporting her constituents with this vote.”

— Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart

“Keeping first responders on the job during this crisis is critically important to the health, safety and welfare of all communities. This legislation provides a necessary lifeline for communities struggling to manage the fiscal crisis COVID-19 has caused.”

— Marshalltown Chief of Police Michael W. Tupper

“While we deeply appreciate the assistance that Congress provided to airports through the CARES Act last spring, it’s become increasingly clear that our industry will require additional assistance to survive the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The HEROES 2.0 Act provides that assistance, including critical funding to help airports and concessionaires offset the financial pressures caused by a historic downturn in air travel. Local, state and national economic recovery will depend on a strong aviation system, and we fully support this legislation to ensure we have it.”

— Dubuque Regional Airport Director Todd Dalsing

“As small, independent restaurant owners financially and personally invested in the success of our community’s restaurant scene, we are in full support of the HEROES 2.0 Act. The Restaurants Act included in the legislation is a beacon of hope that could help save not only the 11 million jobs in our industry but countless additional jobs in distribution, advertising, farming, manufacturing and more. This bill won’t just protect our industry, it will provide a lifeline to a huge and diverse group of folks who work extremely hard here in Cedar Rapids and across the country. HEROES 2.0 is essential to save the American Dream for Mom and Pops like us, and preserve our safe, communal gathering places.”

— Sam & Phoebe Charles, owners of Rodina restaurant in Cedar Rapids

“The timing and importance of the HEROES 2.0 Act couldn’t be any more crucial to saving our favorite independent restaurants and bars. The Revitalization Fund included in the legislation will not only keep our restaurants open, but to ensure millions of Americans can stay employed within our communities. I am very grateful for the hard work of Congresswoman Finkenauer and the thousands of restaurant operators in the Independent Restaurant Coalition who worked night and day to protect our industry.”

—Kevin Scharpf, chef and owner of Brazen Open Kitchen & Bar in Dubuque

October 1 news release from Representative Dave Loebsack:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the House passed an updated version of the Heroes Act to provide relief for individuals, families and small businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The House passed the original version of the Heroes Act in May and since then, the Senate has taken no action of its own to provide assistance to those who are suffering through no fault of their own.

“Iowans and people across the country are hurting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and they are in desperate need of relief. The House took action and passed legislation in May to protect frontline workers, stop the spread of the disease and help working families and small businesses get the support they need,” said Loebsack. “The bill passed today recognizes the need to work towards a compromise, while continuing to meet the ongoing needs of the American people. It is past time for the Senate to come to the table and actually work towards a compromise.”

The updated Heroes Act includes:

  • Provides relief to the biofuels industry through direct per-gallon payments to producers of renewable and advanced biofuels who experienced unexpected market losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Strong support for small businesses, by improving the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits, providing hard-hit businesses with second loans, and delivering targeted assistance for the struggling restaurant industry and independent live venue operators.
  • Additional assistance for airline industry workers, extending the highly successful Payroll Support Program to keep airline industry workers paid.
  • More funds to bolster education and childcare, with $225 billion for education – including $182 billion for K-12 schools and nearly $39 billion for postsecondary education – and $57 billion to support childcare for families.
  • Stability for American infrastructure, sending $32 billion in Transit Emergency Relief to state Departments of Transportation, and $13.5 billion in economic relief to airports.
  • Provides additional direct payments, cushioning the economic blow of the coronavirus crisis with a more robust second round of economic impact payments of $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per dependent.
  • Restores unemployment benefits, ensuring weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through next January and preventing unemployed workers from exhausting their eligibility, providing a vital safety net for the record number of Americans who are unemployed, including those connected to the gig-economy.
  • Support for renters and homeowners by authorizing $50 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance program, and extending and expanding the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums for one year.
  • October 1 news release from Representative Cindy Axne:

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tonight, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) issued the following statement on her vote on the updated Heroes Act:

    “Over the past two months, I repeatedly urged House leadership to bring up a simplified, straightforward COVID-19 aid package in order to meet the White House and Senate Republicans in the middle on a deal that could deliver critical assistance for Iowa’s families, businesses, and communities.

    This move toward compromise has demonstrably renewed momentum for a deal, and we are closer than we have been in months, but the only thing that will deliver the help my constituents need is a bill that will actually become law.

    As negotiations between our two sides continue, we need to give these discussions our full attention and support. Millions of Americans cannot afford for us to fail in this effort – we must continue to work towards an agreement and vote when we know we have a deal in hand.”

    Rep. Axne has continued to push congressional leadership to move a new package of COVID-19 relief forward to help Iowa families.

    Last week, Rep. Axne led a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to bring up a “revised and streamlined” relief package.

    Previously, Rep. Axne had urged Speaker Pelosi to bring up a simplified COVID-19 aid package when the House returned to session two weeks ago.

    Earlier this month, Rep. Axne wrote to Speaker Pelosi to urge her to put a revised COVID-19 aid package on the House’s agenda for September.

    Rep. Axne made a similar request of House leadership in August when the House returned to session to pass legislation to preserve the solvency and operational capacity of the U.S. Postal Service.

    Rep. Axne also led a letter of Iowa and Illinois Representatives to the White House and congressional leadership highlighting the need for additional aid for state and local governments after a devastating derecho struck the region earlier last month.

    In May, Rep. Axne rejected the original Heroes Act for its inclusion of superfluous provisions and unnecessary spending – while continuing to advocate for a package that could garner Senate and White House approval to deliver much-needed aid for Iowans.

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