WASHINGTON — An urgent bipartisan coronavirus relief package is being held up in the House by a single Republican congressman who threatens to delay it for another week.
The billion-dollar package, which includes sick leave and free testing for affected Americans, was due to move to the Senate as soon as Monday night, but has since been met with objection from GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.
The House passed the bill in the early hours of Saturday morning before it took a one week break amid the escalating pandemic, but it later emerged the legislation had technical issues which needed to be corrected.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and White House point-person, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin all agreed to the changes but Gohmert has since emerged as a surprise foil.
The congressman, as first reported by NBC News, is insisting on reading aloud the changes, all 87 pages of them, and if one member stands in opposition, then the bill cannot automatically move to the Senate with unanimous consent.
The entire House will need to come back from their districts around the country to vote on the package.
The Republican lawmaker said he was concerned that not enough time had been given to debate the merits of the billion-dollar relief bill.
“This coronavirus is doing enough damage to people without Congress compounding the problem to rush through a bill and another corrected bill just to say we did something,” Gohmert said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
“I will not give my consent without first reading these very serious changes that will hopefully minimize bankruptcies caused by the virus rather than causing more. The final draft has still not been finished,” he added.
“I have spoken with Kevin McCarthy and the President who both understand my concerns.”
Gohmert was one of 40 Republicans who voted against the package, which includes up to two weeks’ of sick leave and three months of family leave for those affected by the virus.
The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” would also secure free tests for all Americans, even the uninsured, and provide increased funding for food banks.