Early Wednesday morning, lawmakers settled on a $2 trillion stimulus deal in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Checks sent directly to individuals are part of the deal as it currently stands, with single Americans receiving $1,200, married couples getting $2,400, and parents seeing $500 for each child under age 17.
Payments would begin to phase out for individuals that earn a gross income greater than $75,000, with those making more than $99,000 not qualifying at all. That threshold would be doubled for couples. Qualifying income levels will be based on federal tax returns for 2019, but if an individual has not yet filed, the 2018 edition will be used. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 90 percent of all Americans would qualify for the payment in some form, and lawmakers currently have $250 billion set aside for the checks.
With demand for the stimulus checks rising by the day, the disruptive nature of the coronavirus pandemic could potentially play a part in delaying the passage of the bill. With several members of Congress self-isolating after coming into contact with an infected person or contracting COVID-19, the House of Representatives will have to do something never done before to secure the stimulus.
Calls For Remote Voting Are Growing
As of publishing, three members of Congress and the spouse of a senator have tested positive for the coronavirus, per Common Dreams. Those infected are Representative Ben McAdams of Utah, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and the husband of Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Paul made the decision to not self-isolate following his testing and came into contact with his peers on Capitol Hill, leading to Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina self-quarantining.
The contagious nature of COVID-19 and the fact that members of Congress regularly commute between their home districts or states and Washington D.C. have put lawmakers particularly at risk for contracting and spreading the virus. This has led to the growth of calls amongst politicians to implement a system where lawmakers would be able to negotiate and vote on the stimulus bill, along with other legislation, while not putting themselves at risk.
“Congress should be an example, not an exception, on public health,” tweeted Representative Katie Porter of California.
Americans across the country are currently working from home while schools, restaurants and non-essential small businesses are currently closed in many areas.
Remote Voting May Not Come Quickly
While remote voting would be an ideal solution for the current crisis, the fact that COVID-19 became a major issue so quickly may have left Congress unprepared to make the transition, per The Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California spoke about the issues faced during an interview on MSNBC.
“There are serious constitutional, technological and security concerns about it. They can be addressed, but for right now, we’re just working very hard to get unanimous consent so we can get this bill done, and then consider what the options are later.”
When pressed on remote voting, Pelosi said Congress was “not prepared.”
Other alternatives have been suggested, including voice voting, proxy voting and staggered voting to prevent crowding on the chamber floor, but all of those options would require members of Congress to fly to Washington D.C. in order to participate. Pelosi herself requested a type of remote voting, but it would still require lawmakers to come to Washington before voting on secured devices.
“It may be that we have no choice but that. But if that is the case, we want to be fully prepared, and none of those systems work unless you practice, practice, practice to make sure it works. You know about technology; it’s a wonderful thing, but it has its glitches.”