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COVID-19 relief bill: Congress gets few hours to read 5,593 pages

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The longest invoice ever handed by Congress contains revised guidelines for music copyrights and sections on Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Swiss coat of arms.

WASHINGTON — The $900 billion pandemic aid package deal rushed by Congress Monday created a well-known year-end conundrum for lawmakers: It was a invoice too huge to fail, and in addition too huge to learn.

Delivering virus support to the nation required a leap of religion for lawmakers as they had been casting their votes, virtually sight unseen, for a sprawling, 5,593-page invoice that linked the pandemic support with a $1.Four trillion annual spending invoice to fund the federal government. The Senate Historic Workplace says it could be the longest invoice ever handed by Congress.

“I feel if we offer everybody a paper copy we must destroy a whole forest,” joked Home Guidelines Committee Chairman James McGovern, responding to a Republican request for a tough copy of the laws. The invoice was launched at 2 p.m., simply hours earlier than the Home and Senate had been anticipated to vote on it.

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Additionally within the invoice: tons of of unrelated legislative gadgets negotiated by management to win votes from numerous constituencies. It contains prolonged tax breaks for the alcohol trade and motor speedways, complete vitality laws, revised guidelines for music copyrights, approval of two new Smithsonian museums and lessened penalties for the transportation of water hyacinths. There’s additionally a whole part on Tibet, together with a press release of U.S. coverage on methods to decide the nation’s subsequent non secular chief, the Dalai Lama, and the decriminalization of using the Swiss coat of arms.

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It was a dizzying if acquainted end within the Capitol, the place lawmakers usually procrastinate on passing payments — even these with broad help — till they’re on the cusp of heading dwelling for a vacation break. It’s why such payments are sometimes referred to as “Christmas bushes,” trimmed with legislative ornaments, and stand among the many most obtrusive signs of a damaged Congress the place the 2 events cannot agree till they completely must.

Nonetheless, the package deal was a rare response to the worldwide pandemic — the second main invoice this yr — and was negotiated virtually totally behind closed doorways by congressional management. And since it contains long-awaited virus aid for companies and people, all the extra gadgets had been catching a free experience to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Some pissed off members of each events appeared unlikely to go alongside even with the invoice destined to go.

“NOT ONE Member of Congress could have had time to learn by it earlier than voting later at present,” tweeted Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. “That is terrible governance, and a disservice to the American individuals.”

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York echoed that thought: “It’s not ok to listen to about what’s within the invoice,” she tweeted simply earlier than it was launched. “Members of Congress have to see & learn the payments we’re anticipated to vote on. I do know it’s ‘controversial’ & I get in bother for sharing issues like this, however the individuals of this nation should know. They deserve higher.”

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Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., stated: “I can’t in good religion vote for laws of this magnitude with out first totally inspecting its contents and the way it impacts North Carolinians and their futures.” He referred to as a $600 verify for people struggling economically “too little, too late.”

A number of the unrelated gadgets weren’t controversial. There’s aid for victims of steep shock medical payments and the approval of the 2 museums that can honor American Latinos and ladies. A Republican senator blocked the 2 museums earlier this month though they’ve broad bipartisan help.

Different gadgets within the package deal hadn’t handed on their very own attributable to partisan bickering that stalled a lot of the Senate’s work. They included clear vitality provisions, the results of a bipartisan compromise, and laws renewing the nation’s intelligence packages. The invoice additionally overhauls the plane certification course of within the wake of crashes of Boeing 737 MAX planes — laws that the Home Transportation Committee referred to as “probably the most important overhauls to the FAA certification reform course of in current historical past.”

A number of high-ticket gadgets received inclusion, together with an virtually 400-page water sources invoice that targets $10 billion for 46 Military Corps of Engineers flood management, environmental and coastal safety tasks. There was additionally $7 billion to extend entry to broadband, $Four billion to assist different nations vaccinate their individuals, $14 billion for cash-starved transit techniques, Amtrak and airports.

After which there have been the smaller gadgets stowed away within the 1000’s of pages — vital to some lawmakers, however unlikely to win coveted ground time in a freestanding invoice.

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One part repealed a wide range of little-known legal penalties for minor violations, together with the transportation of the water hyacinths and using the Swiss coat of arms. The part additionally decriminalizes the unauthorized utility of theft prevention decals or gadgets, and the unauthorized use of the 4-H Membership emblem, the “Smokey Bear” character or title, the “Woodsy Owl” character, title or slogan, or “The Golden Eagle Insignia.”

Although many of the gadgets had been listed in prolonged invoice summaries, it was unlikely that almost all lawmakers would even know these issues had been there.

“Listed here are the 5,593 pages of language which I’m now perusing and on which we’ll be voting in about six hours,” tweeted Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat who labored on the virus aid compromise.

Phillips requested the place he might discover Evelyn Wooden, the late American educator who popularized velocity studying.

Related Press author Andrew Taylor contributed to this report. 

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